Holy Land USA Sign Restored
Enterprising Waterbury Boy Scouts organized an ambitious community service project in late 1997 to attain the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. At the center of the project was the restoration of Waterbury's weirdest and best known landmark -- the giant Hollywood-style sign that marks the hilltop location of "Holy Land USA"
Since before the 1986 death of evangelical visionary John Greco -- a Waterbury lawyer and builder of the attraction, Holy Land has been deteriorating. Unseen forces of Nature and Vandalism rampaged through the miniature Jerusalem and delicate religious art environment for more than a decade. Yet the large red and white sign still lit up each night, as if nothing was wrong. Residents could rest well, their town abask in a divine glow.
In recent years, even the sign finally started to slip, coated with graffiti, some letters pulled askew. Mark and Matt Tortora, 15-year old twins, decided that saving the Holy Land USA sign was the best thing for the city -- and their best shot at qualifying for Eagle Scout rank.
They solicited local businesses to donate equipment, money and time, and mustered a team of volunteers -- including fellow Troop 76 scouts Keith Hemenway and John Towle, to help out.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle to the repairs was getting permission from the current directors, a pair of nuns that live in the house by the gate. For years, help had been refused from would-be preservationists and other local do-gooders. But the old batch of sisters who had watched over Holy Land for 25 years had been replaced by new sisters in August 1997. The boys' project was deemed suitable and the work proceeded.
The refurbished sign has been rewired, the letters are straight, with a new coat of blue paint to replace the classic red borders. Scout Keith Hemenway e-mailed to report: "The sign is beautiful, and now can be seen from I-84 every night from 6pm to 12am. (we had some problems with the transformers, and the 'A' in 'USA' and 'D' in 'land' went out!)."
We visited the site in March 1998. The scouts have done a fine job. They've even added their own memorial at the base of the sign, which reads "Honor God." The rest of the hill is pretty much a shambles, but we'd be disappointed if it was otherwise.
Troop 76 scouts -- we salute you![03/15/1998]
- Overlooks I-84 and the Brass Mill Center. Heading east, I-84 exit for S. Main St. -- stay straight on McMahon St., turn right on Baldwin St. then left on Pleasant St, which turns left on Emerald, then go right on Ayers St. to end.
- Closed - Private property.
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