Toy and Plastic Brick Museum
"My kids hate LEGO," said Dan Brown, founder of The Toy and Plastic Brick Museum. That may sound mean, but the kids really aren't angry at the snap-together plaything. They're mad at Dan, who admits that he has way too much of the stuff.
Dan owns the world's largest private collection of LEGO, and opened The Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in 2007. Disagreements with the corporation led to Dan dropping the LEGO name from the attraction, but LEGO is what it's all about. The museum occupies all three floors of the former Gravel Hill Middle School: 36,000 square feet of LEGO artwork, architecture, theme rooms, and animatronic displays. Dan bought the old high-ceilinged school, filled it with the museum, then bought another old school in town just to house his LEGO spare parts.
And Dan isn't the only former kid with a LEGO obsession. The museum was created as much for adults as for children. As we walked across its tile floors and up and down its staircases, Dan singled out impressive works of art built by AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO) and LUG (LEGO Users Groups). "There's a whole LEGO Underground," he said, pointing to nightmarish sculpture named "Baerwyrm" that looked like a cross between the Alien and a porcupine. It was built by a visiting LEGO artist from Alaska out of parts from Dan's scrap pile. "It's the Dark Side of the Brick," said Dan. "It's a theme here."
There's also plenty of happy LEGO-licensed art in the museum, much of it commissioned years ago by the company for its various attractions, road shows, and partnerships -- and irresistible to a collector like Dan.
There are big statues of LEGO Spider Man, Darth Vader, and Scooby Doo; a seven-foot-tall Woody from Toy Story; a bedridden Babar the Elephant that once lay in the lobby of Yale New Haven Children's Hospital. Dan pushed a button and a life-size LEGO Star Wars Battle Droid sprang to life, accompanied by martial Attack of the Clones music. "They never produced him," said Dan about the prototype. "The gun would pivot from his arm and come crashing through the display case."
Dan is especially proud of the exhibits in the museum's basement gymnasium, reached via a ramp carpeted with LEGO brick-pattern rugs that he salvaged from the company's U.S. headquarters. Across the old gym floor stretches the Largest LEGO Image in the World, certified by Guinness World Records, a cheerful mosaic of a tractor trailer created by AFOLs and local school kids.
According to Dan, LEGO was so upset by Guinness's recognition of the renegade artwork that it forbade them from ever using the LEGO company name again. Dan had already received his certificate, so he had it etched into a stone slab that stands outside the museum's front door. "I own the record forever," said Dan with delight, "because it's gone."
Dan flipped a series of color-coded switches, spotlights illuminated the old gymnasium stage, and a three-piece human-size LEGO robot band named Plastica launched into herky-jerky motion. A 1980s synthpop version of LEGO's old theme song, "Just Imagine," boomed across the empty gym. The monotone robot vocalist sounded like a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica:
A rocket to Mars, just imagine
Batteries in cars, just imagine
Big dinosaurs, just imagine
The power is yours! Just imagine!
"The 'Just Imagine' theme was the end of my generation," said Dan. "The Just Imagine people at LEGO are gone. Now it's Just For Profit."
Dan knows that the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum won't succeed without the continued creative contributions and good will of other LEGO fans. "I don't want it to just be me," he said. "It's a community." Toward that end, a local LEGO club is using the museum to build the World's Tallest LEGO Tower, ascending from the sub-basement up an air shaft to some as-yet-unreached point in the sky.
"We've already cut a hole in the top of the building," said Dan. "I love this place!"