LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Camuso Collection Preservation Committee has been hard at work cleaning and restoring the figures and expanding the display in anticipation of the 2016 lighting ceremony on Dec. 3. After nearly five years of working to return the centerpiece of the collection, the 26-foot revolving Christmas tree, to its former glory, a brand new tree replicating Ernie Camuso’s nearly 50-year-old tree has officially been restored.
The tree, originally built by late Livingston resident Ernie Camuso, worked well for decades, but was in dire need of repairs and updates. Over the many years on display at Camuso’s home on Burnet Hill Road, the weather took its toll on the steel wire, which was not treated to fend off rust like wire available today, according to the Camuso Committee.
Chief Elf Thomas Cooney said dozens of pieces of garland would break off the collars each year and create huge gaps, leading to the conclusion that the tree would not have lasted much longer without new branches. After seeking estimates to have a tree completely fabricated from scratch, the committee received an estimate of upwards of $120,000 and began to investigate the feasibility of the project.
As a donation to the project, Puleo Novelties, which made the original garland for Camuso, commissioned the fabrication of nearly 4000-linear-feet of garland in China and had it shipped to the Camuso Committee. Since then, members of the committee have spent the last three years using drill presses, manual tapping tools and a 12-ton hydraulic press to build the branches from scratch.
Approximately 5,186 holes, 900 collars, 900 set screws attached to brand new rods and nearly 3600 pieces of garland later, the project will finally be completed before Opening Night on Dec. 3.
“It’s a relief because the tree was in such bad shape that I don’t know how much longer it would’ve lasted,” said Cooney. “Every time we put the tree up, it got harder and harder because we had to fill all these big gaps with ornaments and garland and it took forever. With the new branches, we’re hoping that the tree goes right up.”
The total cost for the restoration was less than $3,000, which Cooney said is a monumental undertaking, but “the Camuso tree is now completely restored like an antique car and should last for many, many years for countless people to enjoy.”
Now that the tree project is complete, the committee aims its focus on restoring the characters in the coming years.
“Every single figure has to be completely restored,” said Cooney. “We need to attach broken limbs and heads and parts of the body. We’re essentially [restoring] the original character from the inside and the outside and then we have to replace all the linkage, the wiring and the motors. So it’s a lot of work and a lot of money.”
Cooney said this next venture is costly and time consuming, but that it’s worth the investment because once each character is finished, it should last another 50 years.
He also said the Camuso family is thrilled every year to see the township keeping their loved one’s tradition alive.
“We’re going to keep it going as long as people are willing to volunteer,” said Cooney. “It’s not easy, it’s a lot of work. We always need volunteers to help set up and to transfer things; we need people that have the ability to use tools and work on the characters; and we need people with the artistic ability to paint.”
Livingston UNICO will once again be sponsoring Santa and his elves at the Camuso display.
From now until the holidays, the Landmark and Patronize Pizzeta will donate 10 percent of the total bill to the Camuso Restoration for any guest who mentions Camuso or Livingston UNICO.