The Guy who Shrunk his 1950s Hometown


16th Oct, 2013

'55 Oldsmobile-with-Bungalow

This could be a snapshot from a mid-century suburban town, taken by a proud new car owner who just came home from the dealership. Perhaps he dashed straight inside his house at number 239 to grab the camera and capture the moment he achieved the American dream …

Sense of scale 1

Or not…

 Sense of scale 2

You’re looking at the work of Michael Paul Smith who makes dream-like reconstructions of the town he grew up in. “It’s not an exact recreation, but it does capture the mood of my memories,” says Michael, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1950.

The Delivery of the New Bendix Washing Machine

Setup Shot for Bendix Washer Delivery

He has named his ongoing project, “Elgin Park“, an imaginary town (inspired by his boyhood memories of Pittsburgh) where time has stopped in the era of beautiful automobiles. To achieve a vintage look, he applies retro filters but Michael stresses that none of his pictures have been manipulated with Photoshop and they all come ‘straight from the camera’.

Ala Cushman

DIVCO Sense of Scale

“It’s the oldest trick in the special effects book: line up a model with an appropriate background and shoot,” explains Mr. Smith. At 1/24th scale, however, the job is no walk in the park and can often take hours and hundreds of clicks of the camera before Michael finds the perfect perspective for his shot.

The Doctor's '34 Airflow

Photo Shoot Set-Up

He photographs his sets against outdoor backdrops in and around where he lives today in Winchester, Massachusetts, and make use of various backgrounds, trees, houses, old/ abandoned/ architecturally dated buildings that remind him of where he grew up. When weather conditions prohibit him from using the outdoors, Michael places his sets inside and brings Elgin Park alive at night.

Tornado in the mid-west 1936

Another Giant Head

Mr. Smith makes his buildings and interiors from scratch from Gator board, styrene plastic and numerous found objects. And it’s probably safe to say that his previous lives as a wallpaper hanger, illustrator, painter, museum display designer, advertising art director, architectural model builder, amateur historian and photographer, have all come in handy in creating Elgin Park.

“Freedom Pennsylvania”


Behind the scene mess



 “Darrel Dink’s Mobile Home”

Darrell Dink's Mobile Home


Browsing through his Flickr photo stream, you can also find some of Michael’s photo descriptions, written as if the places he has created in Elgin Park were once very real and very much a part of his childhood memories. A photograph he took of one of his sets in front of an abandoned building in Winchester becomes, “Research building parking lot, 1958″…

Research Building parking lot 1958

Bandit Photographer- How it was done

From another scene Michael set up one block from where he lives in Winchester, the finished photographed is watermarked like a postcard; “One of the many pleasant streets in Elgin Park.” Underneath, Smith adds a fictitious description to further bring the photograph’s story alive:

“This Post Card was donated to the Historical Society recently and the post mark on the back reads: August 1941. The street is not identified and there is still speculation as to where this photo was taken. It was suggested it might be Ruth Avenue, one of the older roads in town which has a number of colonial homes similar to the one that can be seen on the left hand side of the picture.”

One of the Many Pleasant Streets in Elgin Park

The tiny reality of “Elgin Park”….

SETUP for Plesant Street in Elgin Park



“View from a second story window”

View from a Second Story Window

The Reality Behind the Magic



 “The Arrival of the Corvette Show cars”

The Arrival of the Corvette Show Cars

Corvette Show Cars SETUP SHOT



“News Happens in Elgin Park, 1935”

1935 - News Happens in Elgin Park

Setup for Tow Truck Shot



“1950s Corvettes in near perfect condition uncovered in the Elgin Park Tucker’s dealership.”

5 Tuckers in the Mist

Photo Setup for Tuckers in the Mist

You can tell Mr. Smith certainly has a soft spot for toy model cars from the 40s, 50s and 60s, which he began assembling from kits at the age of twelve.

Faded Coraopolis

So, what have we learned today? If you can’t build a time machine, build a miniature vintage world? Or I suppose you could just escape to Elgin Park.

Elaine's Beauty Salon

It has all the amenities you could possibly need during your time traveling adventure…

Hey, they're raffling off a new Ford!

A drive-in !

Merchants row

A laundromat …

Department of Sanitation

Even sanitation services!

Discover Michael Paul Smith’s Elgin Park.




You might also like


More in Hot WheelsHow to start a subcultureInspiration VaultLife is MessyNostalgiaTime travel

Hot Off the Press

Editor's Picks


Take an Eerie Tour of Greece’s Sinking Ghost Town

Ropoto was the perfect little Greek village that sunk. It was once a happy and peaceful place in central Greece, home to 300 families but today, it lies in ruin, a ghost town emptied of its reside...

Trending 1,212

An Archive of Women who Ride

I got a sweet little tip in my email inbox the other day from a gal who collects vintage photographs of women and their motorcycles. Alison Iven compiles them all on her Tumblr, Women Who Ride...

Trending 7,927

Ladies’ Smoker Night, 1941

I think I need to step up my ladies' night game– these gals I found filed away in the Life archives are putting us to shame! In June 1941, Life magazine's photographer Nina Leen attended a wom...

Trending 12,848