Janelle Gelfand reports:
“There’s nothing in the real world visually that you cannot do with Lego,” believes Mark D. Clark.
Seeing is believing, for in the basement of Clark’s Mason home, a massive Lego construction project is taking shape. Clark is building a scale model replica of Cincinnati’s Music Hall.
It has taken the 46-year-old software engineer hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars since he began “the build” less than six months ago. The accuracy in his reproduction of the 135-year-old Over-the-Rhine landmark is breathtaking. “At first, it was for the challenge of the build itself,” he said. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest. You go after something that’s so big just to see if you can even do it.”
As the Music Hall revitalization group ponders a planned $90 million update of the hall, Clark builds his miniature model, brick by toy brick – 60,000 of them.
Why did he choose to tackle Cincinnati’s most iconic performance hall?
“ I wanted to get into doing a large, interesting architectural building. And the most beautiful building in this town in my opinion is Music Hall. There’s not one with more history than that,” he said.
Clark hopes to have his Lego masterpiece completed by the first week of August, when it will go on temporary display in the lobby of the real Music Hall. (Dates will be announced.)
His passion for the interlocking bricks began two Christmases ago, when he received two kits as gifts. “I put them together and said, I forgot how cool this was. It got me. I got bit, and I got bitten hard.”
Now, like a kid at Christmas, he anxiously awaits each shipment of toy bricks. Occasionally, as he discusses his project, he lapses into the Lego-ese spoken by hobbyists, such as “minifigs,” the people figures that will populate his creation.
To a Lego geek, getting a shipment of brick is “a huge, huge deal,” he said. “Especially when you’ve got this vision stuck in your head. You order it, and you wait.”
It’s become an obsession. Since starting the project in mid-December, he has worked an average of four hours per day after work.
“The stopping time depends on how far I get. When you get to a certain point, and you’re conceptualizing it in your head, it’s like, I have to get this floor finished, or I’m going to lose that vision. So anywhere between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m.”
His aim is to show how Music Hall, constructed in 1878, originally looked, with its windows wide open. “This is a period piece. I wanted to reconstruct it as it existed around 1898 to around 1915-20, right before the Miami-Erie Canal was filled in behind it, which is Central Parkway today,” he said.
Downstairs in the home that Clark shares with his wife, Mary, and 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, the 1⁄50th scale model replica of Music Hall takes up much of a small storage room. Nearby, Clark has constructed “skins” of the North and South Halls – so large he can lie inside each of them. Underneath tables are stacks of boxes, bins and plastic containers of Lego toy bricks. Architectural drawings and large photographs of Music Hall cover the walls.
Springer Auditorium lies on a nearby table, where Clark hopes to fit at least 2,000 seats onto its floor, balconies and boxes. (The hall actually seats 3,417, but the size of the plastic parts won’t allow that many.) It will also have a chandelier – not the one that currently exists, but similar to one that lighted the hall at the turn of the century, with three tiers and measuring 10 inches in diameter.
He’s not sure how he’ll set the stage. That could be determined by budget. Each “minifig” costs $5 to $12.
“Oh, I forgot to show you,” said Clark, looking for a piece that will be the Miami and Erie Canal. It will “flow” with 10,000 translucent blue dots, and a flatboat will move along the channel.
Horse-drawn buggies will pull up on a cobblestone Elm Street. It will be lit with LED street lights that will flicker like gas lamps.
Clark has researched Music Hall meticulously, even down to reproducing load-bearing archways in the main lobby. Doors open and close. Major challenges have included the Rose Window and the slope of the roof-line.
The rear will be open so visitors can peer into the hall and see its stage and balconies. Inside, you’ll see flowers gracing Box 9, which belonged to arts patron Louise Dieterle Nippert.
Clark, a native of Central City, Ky., recalls being awestruck by Music Hall the first time he attended Cincinnati Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” as a child of 6.
His first Lego set was “Rescue” from 1973. “You build, you build, you collect, and you play with it. … They go into a box and are forgotten for decades.”
After Princeton High School, Clark attended Ohio State for three years in aerospace engineering, and finished his degree in computer systems engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He founded RepliSoft Data Systems LLC in 2002.
Then, two years ago, his mom and wife gave him Lego kits for Christmas.
By coincidence, Music Hall officials were talking about a planned revitalization. He contacted Music Hall director of operations Scott Santangelo, looking for prints, drawings, old photographs and any other materials that might help his creation.
Santangelo was happy to help.
“We’ve lent our support through historical archives of photos, and several walk-throughs and other visits he has made to note the dimensions and colors and features. The level of detail to which he’s paid attention is quite remarkable. There might be a collective gasp as people look at this model for the first time.”
Now, Clark would like his project to help the Music Hall Revitalization Committee raise money and public awareness. Eventually, he’d like to see his Lego Music Hall find a home in Cincinnati Museum Center.
Until then, Clark is planning one surprise that he’ll add last – an element that is purely fiction.
“The Genius of Music was to go on the top, but was never added. You have the Genius of Water on Fountain Square. It was supposed to be a big deal, but it was never done.
“This is my tribute to the original vision of what they wanted,” he said, poising a white, winged minifig over his model. “I’ll have this dude at the very peak, way up here.”