Visting Hamtramck’s Disneyland

This unique community folk art collection is kept alive in the original artist’s honor.
Photograph by Chris Schneider

Snuggled between two duplexes in Hamtramck is a folk art installation that has remained open, with constant tinkering, before it relaunches this fall.

Hamtramck Disneyland, a 1,945-square-foot exhibit created in 1992 by retired General Motors Co. employee Dmytro Szylak, is inspired by the actual Disneyland and Ukrainian folk music. It lives atop two large duplex garages decorated with paintings, figurines, carousels, and more.

Szylak maintained the exhibit himself until his death in 2015. It was then adopted by Hatch Art, a Hamtramck-based nonprofit art collective that purchased the duplexes. Hatch was tasked with repairing various elements of the 31-year-old installation and maintaining its uniqueness.

Jason Eddleston, a rental property owner in Hamtramck and co-owner of Ray’s Ice Cream in Royal Oak, helped Hatch take ownership of the property. Their goal was to preserve as much of the art as possible, honoring Szylak’s commitment to community.

Photograph by Chris Schneider

However, acquiring the exhibit and its home property was not the only hard part of this process. “Once we took possession of Hamtramck Disneyland, almost everything had to be redone,” Eddleston says.

The restoration process has included work on the original sound, light, and motion installations; electrical wiring; and roofing. Other safety features such as cameras, outdoor lighting, and programs for safe public engagement will also be added.

Additionally, one of the four duplex apartments was converted to living quarters for artists in residence — instead of paying rent, the artists contribute to the installation.

Photograph by Chris Schneider

The structure will continue to light up at night and retain its moving parts, as well as host many decorative pieces paying homage to Ukraine and Germany. The installation features vibrant colors, figurines and small statues, detailed signage, windmills and other movement pieces, and a large collection of artwork. Hatch associate Chris Schneider says the central goal of the restoration process is to “rebuild in the spirit of what Dmytro did.”

“We still have things that he made, like the helicopter and the space shuttle and the windmill. … Plus, a lot of his horses and [sculptures of] people are going to be dominant throughout the structure. He had a unique way of making people,” Schneider says.

Hamtramck Disneyland — which has attracted visitors from all over the world — is an artistic symbol of the city of Hamtramck and its commitment to community and legacy.

Photograph by Chris Schneider

“It’s a unique and storied place that has delighted thousands of people,” Schneider says.

While the preservation efforts and upkeep will never be fully finished, the team hopes to officially relaunch the exhibit in October or November 2023.

The installation is located at 12087 Klinger St. in Hamtramck and is visible from the alleyway between Sobieski and Klinger, north of Commor and south of Carpenter.

This story is from the September 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.