La Reau's World of Miniature (Gone)
[Closed! This story is from 1998] A few towns east of the high-pitched whine of The Dells we encounter a quiet -- and tiny -- roadside marvel.
La Reau's World of Miniature sits along Highway 22, in a residential area, next to its owners' one story brick ranch home. A bespectacled cartoon globe on the sign points to the attraction's castle gate entrance.
LaReau's is a collection of famous buildings and structures rendered in Styrofoam, the creation of Paul and Clarice La Reau. Paul greets us at the gate, then speeds off in his golf cart to attend to some backlot maintenance. We are free to roam.
The Styrofoam buildings are neatly arrayed along a winding garden path. Little signs next to each tell how many hours it took to build; the US Capitol required 1487 hours. The Capitol is one of the most elaborate and impressive LaReau structures -- every detail correct, viewable from all sides (not the case at other mini-worlds such as the Ave Maria Grotto).
Occasionally, Styrofoam doesn't quite fit construction requirements; the Statue of Liberty's robe is made from bedsheets.
Some buildings are obscure, like the Whitworth-Garner house in New Hampshire. Others hint at a special interest of the La Reau's (the Tara "Gone with the Wind" mansion) or some inside joke (a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet near the Washington monument). Their diminutive version of the Vietnam War Memorial is nearly as moving as the full size one.
We wander past the United Nations building, and off into the "Wonders of the World" area. The scale varies wildly in this fun departure from the precision handiwork of the modern buildings. Plastic dinosaurs are clumped in a birdbath; we nearly trip over a tiny Stonehenge. A full-size dwarf with a soot-covered face pokes out from a leafy corner. The Great Wall and the Pyramids are bigger constructions (an open door on the back of one pyramid shows it also serves as a storage shed).
Another special area portrays the "Life of Christ." These aren't really building miniatures -- more like Catholic stations of the cross. Tiny religious figures and Nativity set accessories are arranged in scenes from the New Testament on pedestals. A miniature train track cuts through the park, although we don't see any scheduled rides.
Paul and Clarice are both retired schoolteachers; they began miniaturizing famous places in 1972, and opened La Reau's at its present location in 1987. They seem happy to live in a little miniature world of Styrofoam - which "doesn't rot or discolor," Paul points out. The insulated blue Styrofoam they've chosen is easier to work with than wood or concrete. But high winds and hail can wreak havoc on this tiny community. Most of the structures are stored away safely for the winter.
It may be a tiny world, but it's a busy one. The couple's current labor is on a 16-foot version of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. And Paul is working on his "signature piece," a replica of Chartres Cathedral in France. "It'll make the Capitol look like Mickey Mouse," he promises. Also on the drawing board: the Eiffel Tower, the Seattle Space Needle, maybe the Sidney Opera House....
2004: Confirmed reports that La Reaus has closed for good. Signs marked "Private Property," and though the fake castle wall is still visible, it's doubtful that the styrofoam buildings are still on display...
August 2002: The La Reaus have completed their replica of Chartres Cathedral in France. According to one visitor, "It is the most impressive building on their lot."