- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

WILLIAMSBURG — Success in politics has been known to swell heads — but not to the dimensions of the presidential pates on display here.

Presidents Park, featuring 20-foot-high concrete busts of the 42 American commanders in chief, is set to open Monday along Interstate 64 in York County near Williamsburg, ending a five-year saga to find a home for the heads.

The outdoor educational museum will allow visitors to walk along a winding garden trail, where the busts are displayed, and reach out and touch the faces of history.

The 10-acre park is the brainchild of Houston artist David Adickes, who visited Mount Rushmore in South Dakota almost 10 years ago.

“I saw the big heads, but was disappointed I couldn’t get closer,” Mr. Adickes, 77, told The Washington Times. “As a sculptor, you want to be able to touch them. On the drive back to Texas from South Dakota, the idea just popped into my brain.” He began creating the 7,500-pound busts in 1995 and realized he would need someplace special — and large — to show them off. His first choice was Washington, D.C., but Mr. Adickes quickly changed his mind.

“Anybody who knows D.C. knows the problems of getting anything done — the permits and all — it would have been a lifetime project,” he said.

But setting up the busts in Williamsburg brought its own difficulties.

When the project was first proposed, the York County zoning commissioner defined it as needing a special-use permit, which usually are for amusement parks, such as the nearby Water Country, U.S.A.

“We’re clearly not an amusement. We’re a museum,” said Everette Newman III, managing partner of the park, which won its lawsuit. But the litigation delayed its opening by almost a year.

Now, Mr. Newman is getting ready to show the curious around the park, which includes a visitors center and wooded area, and offer his tidbits of trivia about the American leaders — such as William H. Taft, the nation’s 27th president.

“He got stuck in a bathtub,” Mr. Newman said of Taft, who, at 332 pounds, was the country’s biggest president.

A sign near Taft’s bust notes his years in office (1909-1913), his major accomplishments (he established the Labor Department) — and the fact that he had an oversized bathtub installed in the White House after his inauguration.

While another Presidents Park designed by Mr. Adickes opened in the Black Hills of South Dakota last August, and another is planned for Florida, the location here is unique in its educational emphasis.

Mary Knapp, a teacher and the park’s director of education, developed six programs correlated to the Virginia Standards of Learning for teachers to use when they bring student tour groups.

“One of my primary goals was to make these programs as teacher friendly as possible,” said Miss Knapp.

She said dozens of school groups were already booked to visit the park.

The busts at each park site are identical and based on molds Mr. Adickes designed in his Houston studio. Except for President George H. W. Bush, the sculptor based his works on photos, or paintings for the earlier subjects.

For the senior President Bush, Mr. Adickes managed a sitting when a bust was needed for the airport in Houston. “He’s a good friend,” Mr. Adickes said. When he saw Mr. Bush recently, he invited the former president to make a visit after he parachutes for his 80th birthday this summer.

“I said ‘What if your chute doesn’t open?’ and he said, ‘Then I won’t come,’” Mr. Adickes said. “Barbara said she would come if the chute doesn’t open.”

Admission to the park is $9 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and military, and $6 for children ages 6 to 17. The park will open the day after Labor Day through February from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; March through June from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and July to Labor Day from 1 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

The museum is fully accessible for persons using wheelchairs and motorized scooters and there is elevator service in all public areas.

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