THE DUDE ABIDES
For the past several years, the Glen Rock Historical & Preservation Society has hosted our public school's 4th graders at the Museum at the Station with a special program on local history that ties in to that grade's curriculum. The program, created and presented by retired teachers Barbara Schineller and Karen Mitchell, explores Glen Rock's farming history and early schooling, and ends the visit with a "sketch and share". The students are given clipboards and pencils and are free to wander through the Museum to sketch items that catch their fancy, and then everyone comes together and shares the drawings to the group.
Two years ago, one talented 4th grader shared her sketch of "The Dude", as she called him, which turned out to be her drawing of a portrait on the wall of Carl Kemm Loven (original portrait is at left). She was surprised to learn that "The Dude" was an internationally known architect who lived and designed in Glen Rock until his untimely death in 1965. One of his most beautiful designs was for his own house located at 119 Rock Road, a house he dubbed "Manoir Roche Vallon" (house in the valley of the rock).
Long-time Glen Rockers fondly remember Loven's extravagant Christmas display at his Rock Road residence. The display started around 1940 as a project to entertain his two children and grew into such an event that eventually the Glen Rock Mayor and Council had to step in.
Ever the craftsman, Loven designed, built and painted his plywood figures in his basement. He started with a simple Nativity Scene in his front yard, for which he won a community prize. The following year, a chorus of angels was added; later, popular Disney characters from Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Snow White (with all seven dwarves) joined the party. By 1953, the spectacular array included 150 different characters, filling the entire yard and marching over a footbridge, accompanied by spotlights and floodlights with sacred and secular music piped in over loudspeakers - nightly, from 7 to 11 p.m. Loven estimated that he had spent upwards of $10,000 on materials.
A local newspaper reports in 1946: "Mr. Loven has added a life size figure of the Snow Queen who is apparently floating down the air over the brook drawn by two snow white reindeer. In front of her on the ice are several graceful skating figures while from a fountain in the brook a fine, mist-like spray rises through colored lights - red, orange, rose. The Old Woman in her Shoe with her brood of children stands near the house and Cinderella's coach is on the bank ready to take her to the ball. There are also all the old favorites scattered here and there over the garden. Pinocchio is floating down the brook; Ferdinand the Bull is contented by sitting under his cork tree;
Bambi is playing on the grass; elves, fairies, woodland creatures and fairy tale folk play under the floodlights which turn night into day, and Santa presides over all from a balcony. The house is turned into a gingerbread castle with candy canes, cookies and frosting."
Mr. Loven's Christmas display was popular with local residents, who came to gaze at the scene on Rock Road each year, and word quickly spread so that within just a few years, people were coming from all over to see what was new. When the number reached 150,000 visitors in a single season, neighbors complained to the Mayor and Council who put the kibosh on. The costs for traffic control were straining the town budget. Mayor Demarest declared that "This display amounts to commercial advertising." Loven was asked to radically tone it down, to conform more or less to the other displays in his neighborhood. He tried. For the 1954 season, he put up only 15 figures, having placed the others in a park in Garfield, but it just wasn't the same and that year would be the last. "It all began when I won the Chamber of Commerce first prize for the best exterior Christmas decorations," he explained. "At first, it was just a hobby, but it outgrew me."
All is not lost, however. Many of Loven's original figures have been lovingly restored and are still displayed at Christmas time by the borough of Midland Park on the grounds of the Ridgewood Water substation on Godwin Avenue. The Midland Park Cub Scout Pack 157 handles the installation these days. The borough bought the lot back in the mid-1950s for the grand total of $1.00. Carl Kemm Loven, aka "The Dude", abides.