On a quiet street in Vineland, N.J., stands a sprawling, mosaic castle that has fascinated locals and tourists for close to a century.
Built in the 1930s, the Palace of Depression is an architectural oddity constructed from scraps, junk, and discarded materials. In the 1960s, the palace faced multiple acts of vandalism and neglect. The city gutted it after it went up in flames. A few decades later, a father-son duo resurrected the structure.
A view of the palace from afar. (Brianna Hill / WHYY)
Kevin and Kristian Kirchner passed away within the last two years. Now, a group of volunteers are striving to keep Daynor’s and the Kirchners’ legacy alive.
They are using archival footage, photographs, and memories to make the new palace as close to the original as possible. Reconstruction has been a slow and arduous process with many setbacks, but today it’s much closer to what it once looked like, said Steve Medio, president of the Palace of Depression Restoration Association.
Medio, who is overseeing the volunteers, wants to bring back one of the original attractions: an actress impersonating a mermaid that would appear in a well and wave to visitors.
“It definitely meant something because the city went and just tore it down,” said Will, a 19-year-old volunteer who only gave his first name. “And then all these people came together just to reconstruct that, to show people what it once was. Even if it’s just a close replica of what was once here, it’s still nice to give it to the next generation and the younger people who may not have had the chance to see it and its prime and in its glory.”
Will, 19, is a volunteer from the New Jersey Youth Corps. “You find something every day. There’s hubcaps all over the place, rims on pipes, little pieces of glass like that,” he said. “I’m not an architect or anything, but I make music, so it’s inspiring to see [Daynor] worked with what he had.” (Gina E. Kim/WHYY)
What is the Palace of Depression?
The castle today looks like a mash-up of a red-roofed country house, a hobbit’s hole, and a medieval castle built with brick, glass bottles, hubcaps, and other found parts. Its history is as colorful as the architecture suggests.
George Daynor built the palace as a testament of human resilience in overcoming the challenges of the Great Depression. Daynor moved to Vineland with his wife Florence in 1929. He wove a tale around his life, claiming to be a gold miner from Alaska who lost his fortune in the stock market crash. Patricia Martinelli, curator at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, and an expert on Daynor and the palace, said Daynor was most likely a builder from Pennsylvania.
“Mr. Daynor was always a larger-than-life figure,” Martinelli said. “I’ve heard stories about him walking down Landis Avenue with his long hair and beard and his swallowtail coat and scaring the life out of little children. So he was a great storyteller. And the tales he told really piqued people’s imagination.”