ATLANTIC CITY - The word "museum" often conveys a stuffy or boring image. But add another word - wax - to it and suddenly the excitement level skyrockets.
From the opening of the first Madame Tussauds waxworks in London in 1835, wax museums have sprung up all over the world.
A development group hopes to capitalize on the public's fascination with the lifelike qualities of wax figures by combining a wax museum with another public obsession - eating. The waxworks-themed restaurant concept is being pitched to casinos in Atlantic City as the developers narrow their search for a location.
"In Atlantic City, the restaurant revenues are climbing, so it might be a perfect time to build this project," said Joe Camarota, an engineer and former casino construction official who is part of the development group.
Camarota said the developers are talking to an existing casino and a proposed casino about their project. He declined to name them but said there is a possibility his group may open wax-themed restaurants at both casinos. The restaurants would cost about $5 million each to develop.
"One (restaurant) will depend on how the first- and second-quarter revenue is for the existing casino, and the other will be a decision on whether they build the casino or not. So we're probably a year away on that," Camarota said.
Since 1995, Camarota has been working on the idea of melding the horror genre with a restaurant to create something called the "Hollywood Horror Cafe." He later teamed up with West Coast wax sculptor and special effects expert Henry Alvarez and movie fine arts collector Delbert Winans to pursue a similar concept.
They were brought together by Sara Karloff, daughter of Hollywood horror legend Boris Karloff. Another famous horror movie name, Lugosi, also is part of the project. Bela Lugosi Jr., a California attorney and son of one of the best-known horror actors in the genre's history, has provided legal assistance for the development group.
Sara Karloff and Bela Lugosi Jr. also have agreed to help the group through their entertainment industry contacts and with licensing deals for horror memorabilia from the Karloff and Lugosi estates, Camarota said.
Winans has since died, but Alvarez and Camarota continue the partnership. In the past, the name of their company was Gothic Entertainment Group. Under that flag, they developed themed restaurant concepts such as "Hollywood Horror Cafe," the "Gothic Grille" and "Frank-N-Stein Bar and Grille." Camarota said the company may be revived for the Atlantic City development.
Alvarez is convinced that a waxworks-themed restaurant will be a popular tourist draw in Atlantic City. He believes this is the type of multimedia attraction that will help pull the city out of its four-year economic slump.
"For me, it's a big tourist area," Alvarez said. "They're trying to regenerate interest there. People are always interested in going to a wax museum to see (likenesses of) celebrities."
Wax museums are nothing new for Atlantic City. Ripley Entertainment operated a Louis Tussauds Wax Museum in the old Chalfonte-Haddon Hall hotel, now Resorts Casino Hotel. When Resorts opened as Atlantic City's first casino in 1978, the wax museum exhibit lingered for several years before it closed.
The demise of the Louis Tussauds Wax Museum was blamed on Atlantic City's evolution away from family-oriented entertainment and more toward the adults-only casinos. About 30 years later, Atlantic City is adding more nongaming attractions as it looks to reinvent itself as a broader-based tourist destination instead of being just a casino-centric town.
"We dovetail with the brand new entertainment in the city," Camarota said of his project. "It goes in line with the thinking for new entertainment in the city."
Las Vegas has a Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. The two-story attraction opened in 1999 and draws an average of about 1,000 visitors daily.
Camarota has been in discussions with the New Jersey Hall of Fame for a possible tie-in with the Atlantic City project. In addition to the horror genre, possible themes for the wax museum-restaurant could be New Jersey celebrities, music idols, sports figures or Hollywood stars, Camarota said.
Ray Angelini Inc., a contracting and engineering firm based in Gloucester County, would help design and build the restaurants. Camarota is the company's chief engineer. Ray Angelini would incorporate environmentally friendly elements such as solar and geothermal energy systems, LED lighting and recycled building materials, Camarota said.
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