Clever Jamestown Exploits Lucy Legacy, Clueless Niagara Falls Ignores Tesla

Niagara Falls could learn a lesson or two from the city of Jamestown, NY, located a little more than an hour’s drive south of here, when it comes to not only honoring but capitalizing economically on the memory of its most famous residents.

In 1996, Jamestown officially opened the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy at, ironically, its 3rd Street tourism district.

Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown in 1911 and lived there until the age of three. Later, her family moved to the small town of Celoron, on the outskirts of Jamestown, where she spent most of her childhood.

The mission of the “Lucy Desi Museum” is “to preserve the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and enrich the world through the healing powers of laughter through its commitment to the development of the comedic arts.”

In addition to the museum, which features an extensive exhibit of Lucy memorabilia including original costumes, portraits, never-before-seen footage of the popular TV show, Lucy’s car and more, the facility includes a Desilu Studios wing (Lucille Ball was the founder and CEO of the very successful Desilu, which originated and produced such iconic TV shows as “Mission Impossible”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, “That Girl”, “My Favorite Martian” and “Star Trek”) where various Emmy Awards and re-created sets are on display.

A popular amenity of the Lucy Desi Museum is the astounding Tropicana Room, a full-scale mock-up of Ricky Ricardo’s Manhattan night club where he led a Latin Rhumba band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, in both real-life and on the show, “”I Love Lucy”.

The opulent Tropicana Room at the Lucy Desi Museum

The opulent Tropicana Room at the Lucy Desi Museum

According to the website, the Tropicana Room at the Lucy Desi Museum in downtown Jamestown hosts dinners, conferences, meetings, holiday parties, baby and bridal showers, wedding receptions and weddings, with seating accommodations up to 160. Entertainment runs the gamut from local and visiting bands to comedians, which in the past have included Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, Ray Romano, Bob Newhart, Paula Poundstone and others over the past two decades as part of Jamestown’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

Remember the infamous “Scary Lucy” statue, installed at a small Celoron park, that attracted international attention a couple of years ago for its ugliness? That rendition of Ball drew widespread criticism and calls to remove it. To make it right, Celoron put together some grants and commissioned a new statue, which was unveiled last year, to replace Scary Lucy.

Then the Celoron Town Board voted to gift Scary Lucy to the Lucy Desi Museum.

"Scary Lucy", a gift from the Town of Celoron to the Lucy Desi Museum, where she keeps them laughing.

“Scary Lucy”, a gift from the Town of Celoron to the Lucy Desi Museum, where she keeps them laughing.

“We are extremely pleased with the decision made by the Celoron Board today. We are excited to embrace the statue in a different light; not as likeness of Lucille Ball, but as a tribute to what she was all about – making people laugh,” said National Comedy Center (a $50 million expansion to the museum now nearing completion) chairman Tom Benson in a press release. “This piece of comedy history has made millions of people laugh since going viral, and we look forward to working with the board of Celoron to find creative ways to showcase it in Comedy Center Park and the upcoming National Comedy Center.”

Remind you of anything?

A couple of years ago, New York State Parks announced that it was removing the Tesla Sculpture from Cave of the Winds plaza, where it took up valuable food pavilion space, to a more out-of-the-way location nearer the brink of the falls. The Niagara Falls City Council, the Niagara County Legislature and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area board all passed unanimous resolutions asking State Parks to gift the magnificent sculpture to the city of Niagara Falls, and we all know how that turned out.

Nikola Tesla, the namesake of the cutting-edge car company that’s affiliated with the economic revival of Buffalo, goes down in history as the Father of AC Electricity. His inventions based on AC changed mankind in profound ways. The first commercially-viable hydroelectric generating plant in history was designed and built under his supervision on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls, and one of the buildings, listed as a National Historic Landmark, remains standing there to this day.

tesla-and-lucy-together

An accomplished actress, comedian and highly successful businesswoman who owned her own TV production company, Lucille Ball is honored by Jamestown. Inventor of AC generators and motors, discoverer of X-rays and holder of numerous patents on radio transmission, Nikola Tesla is ignored by Niagara Falls.

After obtaining the resolutions asking for the Tesla sculpture, the non-profit Tesla Museum group first approached the NACC (Niagara Arts and Cultural Center) with the idea of hosting the Tesla sculpture in its huge front yard, a busy, exposed, lighted location at least as secure as the sculpture’s present home at Stedman’s Bluff in the state park. At first the NACC board responded with enthusiasm to the idea, but then suddenly stopped returning phone calls. An inside source revealed that Mayor Paul Dyster put the kibosh on the proposal. Of course, Dyster had opposed the city’s resolution to obtain the statue of Tesla in the first place – he had other ideas for “public art” for his city.

Then the group approached Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum to find out if they were interested in hosting the renowned sculpture of Tesla on their secure grounds. Castellani’s staff expressed warm enthusiasm, even suggesting that they could build an interpretive program around the exhibit. Then, they too stopped returning phone calls. This time Dyster made clear, through intermediaries, that he was angry at the group for approaching Castellani – accusing them of “going behind his back.”

The bottom line? Jamestown’s thriving Lucy museum, that draws tens of thousands of tourists downtown every year, obtained a famous Lucy statue through political cooperation and for the good of the community. Niagara Falls has an empty Tesla building, and the Tesla statue continues to function as playground equipment in Albany’s Niagara Falls State Park.

Jamestown even has a Lucy 5K race every October, with over 700 runners participating. After getting caught fudging its distance in 2015, resulting in the invalidation of runners’ times, the Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association (DNFBA) discontinued its 5k race through downtown this year.

On April 7 of this year, as part of his “Downtown Revitalization Initiative” statewide program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an award of $10 million to continue the revitalization and expansion of the Jamestown tourist district surrounding the Lucy Desi Museum.

Two years ago, on Oct. 3, 2013, Gov. Cuomo announced the $40 million “Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge” to revitalize downtown Niagara Falls. So far, the city hasn’t seen a dime of it.

Is anyone surprised by that?

Mayor Paul Dyster worked hard behind the scenes to make sure Tesla remained in Niagara Falls State Park.

Mayor Paul Dyster worked hard behind the scenes to make sure Tesla remained in Niagara Falls State Park.

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