It's been 25 years since the James Dean Gallery in Fairmount first opened its doors. After two moves, including one to Auburn, the collection of memorabilia of the Hollywood icon is back in his hometown.
Located at 425 N. Main St., it's just a short drive from Fort Wayne. The gallery is in an old Victorian home with a sweeping wraparound front porch. Visitors can't miss the place because a statue of Dean in his signature red jacket stands on the front lawn.
Owners David Loehr and Lenny Prussack arrived from New York City 25 years ago and the gallery took off. But in 2006, after an electrical fire, Loehr was able to get backing to design and build a museum at the Gas City interstate 69 exit. Loehr said he was worried about having the collection in an old structure with old wiring.
Loehr, looking a little older and wiser then 25 years ago, said it was about the worst time to make the move. The economy tanked, the price of gas went up and people stopped visiting. The bus tours they used to get evaporated. After two years they were forced to close the gallery at that location. To pay off his debts Loehr was forced to sell some of his collection, mainly rare clothing items from Dean's movie wardrobes. He moved what was left of his collection up to the Kruse Museum in Auburn. Now it's back in his gallery.
When Loehr reopened in Fairmount he stopped charging admission. He said he just didn't feel like it was right to charge anymore because he didn't have a lot of his big-ticket pieces. Gradually, as things pick up at the museum he is buying some of his old collection back, one item at a time.
“I feel like I'm starting all over again,” Loehr said.
Despite his reservations about what he still has there is plenty to see, from a small swatch of a jacket that Dean wore in a movie, to a piece of a car that was in another. There is still a length of a picket fence used in another movie. It has posters galore and multiple little pieces of memorabilia than can be counted. Dean completed major roles in three movies – “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Giant” and “East of Eden” - before his death in a car accident on Sept. 30, 1955, at age 24. Loehr still has a small screening room for film buffs, right next to a 50s antiques and clothing shop in the back of the house, run by Prussack, called Rebel Rebel.
Prussack is a talented designer. While living in the Big Apple he designed costumes for rock bands. Now he is designing vintage-style men's shirts and selling them at www.etsy.com. Prussack said sales started slowly but now he is getting an order every other day, which has been keeping him busy, and helping to support the gallery during the slow winter months.
The gallery now has a very interesting “billboard” hanging in downtown Fairmount; it is a portrait of Dean made entirely from denim material. It was designed and donated to the gallery by Swedish artist Denimu aka Ian Berry. All of Berry's works are made from pieces of denim. Loehr said Berry and his girlfriend came out to visit the gallery and helped with the installation of the piece.
Loher still gets people from all over the world visiting, and touring rock bands still drop by. Members of Girl in a Coma has stopped in about four times, Loehr said.
This summer will be filled with Dean-related events in and around Fairmount and at the gallery.