'Hamtramck Disneyland' lives on after artist's death

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — A little bit of magic is hidden in the backyard of a small two-story residence on Klinger Street.

Known as "Hamtramck Disneyland" in this small Detroit enclave, the offbeat artistic vision of homeowner Dmytro Szylak is continuing to draw visitors even after his death on May 1, neighbors say.

With his estate still tied up in probate court, it's unclear what will happen to the collection of colorful pieces that the retired General Motors employee started assembling more than 20 years ago. But people can still stop by.

"His home is very unique and still gets about three to four visitors a day," said Doris Hughes, neighbor of Szylak. "The house is definitely a main attraction."

Szylak began to convert his backyard into an art yard after retiring from General Motors in 1992, neighbors said.

The collection includes a Ferris wheel that sits atop of the garage; mirrors; and hand-crafted airplanes and miniature animals. A large colorful gate welcomes guests with the face of Mickey Mouse looming in the distance. Rockets and a merry-go-round horse are among the pieces in the backyard; framed photos of tigers, elephants and sunflowers cover the rustic walls of the garage door.

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski hopes the art will stay in Hamtramck.

"As of now, I don't know what will happen to the house, but myself and a few others in the community are dedicated to help preserve the artwork that covers the home," Majewski said.

Szylak was born in the Ukraine and lived at the Hamtramck home for more than 50 years with his wife and daughters. Many of his neighbors viewed him as a quiet man who stayed to himself. His wife died in 2008 at the age of 83.

"Dmytro stayed to himself. He would cut his grass, walk to the corner store and work in his backyard," Hughes said. "He never bothered anyone."

Every Labor Day weekend during the Hamtramck festival, Szylak would put out signs to encourage guests to take photos outside of his home.

"I remember people would line up to go inside of his backyard," said Artez Green, who lived down the street from Szylak. "He was so highly thought of and inspired me to experiment with art as well."

While some may view the eccentric house as an eyesore, Hughes insisted it's anything but.

"People that are not from here might see the home as a distraction, but all the neighbors saw it as art," said Hughes, who has lived across the street from Szylak for over 40 years. "Vandals never bothered the home and it was a welcome attraction to the street."