News

Mel Brooks would be first inductee into Saugus comedy hall of fame

SAUGUS – Legendary comedian Mel Brooks would be the first inductee if and when the National Comedians Hall of Fame Museum is built in Saugus on the site of the former Jim restaurant on Route 1.Matt Adragna, co-founder of the organization and the man who conceived the idea of locating its headquarters in Saugus, on Wednesday gave local and state officials and members of the press a guided tour of the ornate building perched on a ledge overlooking one of America’s busiest highways.”This project will bring a phenomenal number of tourists to Saugus,” he said, standing amid one of the ballrooms inside the 65,000 square-foot structure many area residents will remember as Weylu’s restaurant. “Who doesn’t love comedy? Who doesn’t like to laugh? We have done the research and this place will make a profit.”According to Adragna, the hall of fame and museum would attract an estimated 1 million visitors annually. He emphasized the tourists will stay overnight at the on-site hotel or other hotels on Route 1, rent cars, purchase gasoline, shop at local stores and patronize area restaurants. “The impact will be felt by all those businesses,” he said, adding the facility would hire 150 employees – event planners, marketing managers, curators, maintenance staff, office personnel.As he walked from one sprawling room to the next, Adragna pointed out how the gift shop would be located in the space formerly occupied by the bar. The lobby would accommodate the box office, he said, explaining a layout with a library for use by drama students, a performing arts theater, a VIP lounge in the third-floor pagoda, exhibit halls and a Lifetime Achievement Award Pavilion.”Mel Brooks would be our first inductee,” he said. “He’s an amazing person who has devoted his entire life to comedy.”Adragna said investors have lined up to purchase the property, but he faces a steep challenge of fundraising for the much-needed renovations. “We love the exterior. It’s an iconic building and it’s so fitting that a comedy hall of fame and museum would be inside a Chinese restaurant,” he said.The entire project cost has been estimated at $50 million, including purchase of the building and the 10 acres of land.”The main exhibit would change every year. It might start out with Benny Hill and then Monty Python and Saturday Night Live,” Adragna said. “People can come in and push a few buttons on state-of-the-art computers to see these comedians, hear them. We would have an extensive archive and that’s part of our mission, to preserve comedy before it’s lost.”Jim McCue, executive director of the Boston Comedy Festival, fully supported the concept. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to celebrate New England and Boston’s sense of humor. I hope you’ll try to envision what this place can be.”Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Lenny Clark are among several high-profile comedians who hail from New England, McCue said.Adragna said Saugus’ proximity to Boston makes it an ideal location for a hall of fame and museum. “Nobody wants to go to Cleveland, Ohio to visit the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but people do want to come to Boston,” he said, recalling the first American-born comedian – George Washington Lafayette Fox, a Cambridge native – was from the Boston area.Adragna said factory outlet stores could be built on the property, along with a 100-room hotel.Selectmen Scott Crabtree and Michael Serino, Town Manager Andrew Bisignani, Brendan Creighton from Sen. Thomas McGee’s office and Peter Milano from the state Office of Business Development were among those participating in the tour.”It sounds like a good idea. We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Serino. “I doubt if they would be open by 2012, given the condition of the building and the amount of work that needs to be done.”

More Stories In News