Kevin Riordan: A new life for Cherry Hill's Danny the dinosaur

"We want to make a showpiece out of him," says Jim Baker (right), with co-owner Mayer.
"We want to make a showpiece out of him," says Jim Baker (right), with co-owner Mayer.
Posted: December 09, 2010

Dinosaurs vanished from the Earth about 65 million years ago, but Cherry Hill's landmark brontosaurus departed just last month.

A crane hoisted the former miniature golf course character - dubbed "Danny" by a group of Haddonfield students - from his longtime lair on Route 70.

The 10-foot-tall, four-ton concrete creature now stands in an old foundry in New Castle, Del., where a pair of entrepreneurial pals plans to make him the star of a prehistoric roadshow.

"He will be restored, and then he'll pop up in places, like at Children's Hospital," says Eric Mayer, 60, who along with Jim Baker successfully bid $1,500 for Danny at auction.

"We want to make a showpiece out of him," Baker, 69, says.

Given that Danny was built in Delaware - just when and by whom isn't clear - New Castle is a happy homecoming of sorts. (It cost Mayer and Baker an additional $1,100 to get him there via flatbed.)

But Danny's move also marks the disappearance of another Cherry Hill roadside icon, a reminder of when the Latin Casino, Garden State Park, and exuberantly designed hotels and restaurants made the township an entertainment destination.

"There's not many things like that dinosaur left," says Mike Mathis, who has written three books about the history of Cherry Hill. "The pagoda at the Rickshaw Inn, the pineapple at the Hawaiian Cottage, they're all gone."

"It's sad to see it go," agrees township spokesman Dan Keashen. "But Cherry Hill is evolving, and now the site will be cleaned up."

After Old Pro Golf closed its miniature golf course on westbound Route 70 near Cuthbert Boulevard some years ago, Danny was left behind. A stone business that leased the property moved the big green guy to a little garden at the edge of the six-lane highway, where he was visible to about 30,000 passing vehicles a day.

"We would have taken him if he weren't so darn heavy," recalls Old Pro's Scott Schoellkopf, who grew up in Cherry Hill and is the general manager of his family's Ocean City, Md.-based firm.

"We bought him in Delaware, and to bring him to Cherry Hill we had to cut the tail off and tilt the head to get him under the overpasses," Schoellkopf says. "I had to paint him during the summer a couple of times."

In March, 15 students at Haddonfield's Bancroft School, for children with developmental issues, spotlighted Danny and other local "roadside art" in a project that won second place in an international competition sponsored by the GlobalSchoolNet organization. Their project can be seen at at http://www.bancroftcyberfair.com/roadside/.

"It makes me feel sad that Danny is gone and I might not see him again," says Bancroft student Nicholas D'Ambrosio, 19.

"It's upsetting. And I'm scared about Danny. . . . He's feeling sad," says 17-year-old Alex Siegel.

Seeing Danny close up, it's clear why the students got so attached to him. I must have driven by the big bronto thousands of times, but in person he's imposing, even majestic - despite his lollipop green paint job and damaged tail.

Baker and Mayer, longtime pals who love auctions, had come to Cherry Hill to bid on a sifting machine at the site of the stone business but fell in love with Danny, too. He's the first dinosaur they've ever owned; they've already gotten a $5,000 offer, but he's "not for sale," says Baker.

Mayer considered painting Danny crimson to promote blood donation, but has shifted his focus toward entertainment.

"I want to make a special trailer for it, that looks almost like an environmental situation," Mayer says.

"Tell him about the cage," adds Baker.

"I'd like to build a cage around him, with the bars bent around his neck, so he looks like he's escaping," says Mayer.

They hope to haul the bronto around in the special trailer - sort of a diorama on wheels - to local places, including Mayer's home on the Upper Chesapeake and Baker's place on the Delaware River.

"We're going to park him here and there," Mayer says, "and see what people think."


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3899 or kriordan@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|