The indefatigable artrepreneur is already busy in Santa's workshop, preparing his next holiday extravaganza that will debut on November 18. But this year, Hanzon's Camp Christmas will put down stakes at Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park, where the immersive experience will expand to six acres and five buildings.
Yes, Camp Christmas — created by Hanzon Studios in partnership with DCPA Off-Center — is decamping from Stanley Marketplace, where it had such a big first year before the pandemic moved the concept online in 2020.
While Hanzon loved his time at the Stanley — where nearly 70,000 people visited Camp Christmas over the 2019 holidays — the space had constraints, and with the pandemic continuing, he couldn't imagine putting 300 people in one room. But he also couldn't imagine continuing the online version of Camp Christmas, when he sent out 2,000 packages to happy campers. "We saved Christmas," he recalls, but the effort almost did him in.
With visions of potential COVID restrictions dancing in his head, Hanzon started looking for a new home last January. "Where are we going to go with this?" Hanzon wondered.
He started looking at places all over town, and had many bombed-out buildings offered up. He checked fairgrounds and parking lots, looking for potential.
Friends liken him to "the little boy digging through the horse shit, knowing there's got to be a pony somewhere," Hanzon admits.
And this year, that pony should be able to take off at a full gallop, with plenty of space.
Hanzon admits he'd had a "fantasy flash" about Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park, the old May Bonfils estate, years ago. Then he met with Lakewood's head of art and culture and spoke with Mayor Adam Paul. "Leaving that first meeting, oh, my gosh, it would be so amazing," he recalls thinking.
As the partnership evolved, it only became more amazing. "They're letting us take over five of the buildings that people can go through," he says. In fact, many of the historic structures that have been relocated to the park over the decades — a motel, a beauty shop, a gas station, a diner — seem to have been taken right out of his virtual Camp Christmas drawings from last year.
After starting at Base Camp, visitors to Camp Christmas will be able to stop inside some of those buildings, as well as outdoor refreshment stations and activity spots, as they walk along the half-mile "holiday stroll," taking in sights the way people used to look in holiday windows at department stores — but this stroll will be all downhill.
Hanzon, who used to design the Parade of Lights and also holiday light shows at Hudson Gardens and in Houston, thought his days of outdoor decorating were behind him. "That's the magic I come from," he says.
Hanzon isn't setting up camp alone; he's once again partnering with the DCPA as well as the City of Lakewood. "It's a great public-private partnership," he says. "We just want to have a safe place for families."
Camp Christmas will run from November 18 through January 2 at Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park, 801 South Yarrow Street. Tickets go on sale Friday, September 24, when the DCPA will also be selling tickets to A Christmas Carol, The Hip Hop Nutcracker and Dear Evan Hansen; get them here.