Intricate model of Manhattan debuts 150 miles north

Model Maker 3

BY Molly Congdon
Gazette Reporter
CLIFTON PARK — Most people have to hustle to hop a train or spend hours cramped on a bus to make it to the city that never sleeps.

But residents of Clifton Park are now able to tour the island of Manhattan without spending the time money; in fact, one is able to walk it in its entirety in a matter of seconds.

Thank Joe Macken.

He crafted a model of the city, measuring 30 feet in length.

Model Maker 8

“I’m from New York, I grew up in Queens,” Macken said. “When I was a kid I used to sit on my radiator in the wintertime and watch them build the World Trade Center because I was right across from the East River. I would see the cranes go up and put the pieces together in the late ’60s.”

He was always interested in New York City because it’s the place where everyone wants to go, whether it’s to pass by as a tourist, make educational strides at stellar universities or attempt turn their dreams into a reality.

It all began in March 2005. Ten years later, he finally finished the island we call Manhattan. It took him approximately 6,500 hours.

“I’m proud of it,” Macken said. “It’s an accomplishment.”

It was 11 years ago that he and his family moved upstate.

“My wife [Patricia] and I used to come up and visit her sister; we were living on Long Island at the time working in the insurance business,” Macken said. “We decided to try something different — it was quiet and open — and we did it and we’ve loved it.”

They have three kids: Erika, 12, and 7-year-old twins, Christopher and Jessica.

By day he works for DeCrescente Distributing Company and at night he would spend hours making Manhattan come to life.

Each edifice was entirely constructed from balsa wood. “I cut them up with an X-acto knife, carved them, painted them the right color, detailed them with windows and then glued them onto the boards,” Macken said. “They are all from scratch.”

Macken had no architectural or engineering background going into this project. “It’s just a hobby that went out of control,” he said. “I always was interested in miniatures and building things so I started with one building and then ten years later it turned into a 30 foot long model.”

He began with the central part of the city, Rockefeller Center — most famously known for the gigantic Christmas tree that stands in front of it each year during the holiday season, doused in a display of dazzling lights; it’s the center of Manhattan.

“Everything is to 2,400 scale so every inch is 160 feet,” Macken said. “So the Empire State Building is 7 3/4 inches.”

He even recreated the new downtown with One World Trade Center, the single reflective tower that replaced the twin towers he watched being built all those years ago.

“I used aerial topography off of the Internet to find out exactly how each building looks; you can zone in on all four sides of any building in the city,” Macken said. “It was quite a task.”

There were some rough spots along the way. “The hardest one was definitely the Bank of America building; it’s a new building in midtown,” Macken said. “It has the weirdest shape. It’s kind of crooked with a point on the top of it.”

Constructing the city has been a dream of his since his youth. “There’s a panorama museum in Queens that has a scale model of NYC — it’s been there for like 40 years and it’s all five boroughs,” Macken said. “I went there as a kid on a field trip and ever since then I was always interested in making one myself.”

Model Maker 2

Prior to starting construction on the not quite-so-big Apple, he spent eight months studying the city itself and how to build scale models beforehand. “I build it in 30-by-20-inch pieces,” Macken said. “I never put it together until two months ago and I just hoped it would fit perfectly. I did everything right.”

One day he hopes to have his creation rest in the New York, New York Hotel & Casino in Vegas.

In reality, though, his journey has just begun. “I’m going to keep on going,” Macken said. “I’m not going to stop until I get all five boroughs done.”

Macken’s model of Manhattan will be at the Clifton Park Library again from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12