- By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The popular exhibit recreates the world of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants — from the elaborate costumes to the gilded table settings.
It’s like stepping into the castle, both upstairs and downstairs.
The exhibition concluded its 10-month run in New York on Labor Day Weekend. Now the producers of the blockbuster British historic drama and upcoming movie plan to open the West Palm Beach exhibition Nov. 10 through April in the former Macy’s department store space at 575 S. Rosemary Ave.
The museum-like exhibition will showcase sets and costumes and the series’ historic context.
The PBS show’s six seasons followed the fictional aristocratic family the Crawleys, their servants and the challenges they faced, teeing off of true events of the times, from the Titanic’s sinking in 1912 to World War I, the Irish War of Independence and Teapot Dome Scandal, among others. It’s not necessary to have seen the TV show to find the exhibition engaging, particularly for its depiction of an interesting epoch, said Dominic Burns, senior vice president of brand management for NBCUniversal International Studios.
Why West Palm as the second site for the post-Edwardian foray?
“West Palm Beach is traditionally the holiday destination of choice among aristocrats such as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers,” Burns said. The New York venue, on the section of West 57th Street known as Billionaire’s Row, also aimed at potential visitors in the upper brackets.
But although the television series’ audience demographics skewed female, white collar and 35-and-older, regular viewership of 15 million indicates broader appeal, he said.
“We’re hoping to attract visitors from across the whole state, from Jacksonville to Miami, and West Palm Beach is perfectly situated to enable us to do that,” he said in a call from London Wednesday. “On a more micro level, our venue is also a short walk from the West Palm Beach Brightline Station. We hope to take advantage of that easy commutable distance now from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.”
The timing worked for West Palm, as well, with tourists and snowbirds coming down for the season, he said. “All of these things collided. The Crawley family would have approved of West Palm Beach as the next stop on our tour,” he said.
Other cities that competed might host the exhibition in the future, he said, declining to name them.
Using 20,000 square feet of the old Macy’s ground floor, the West Palm exhibition will follow the designers’ original concept, unlike the New York show, which was divided among three smaller floors. The downstairs sets, the servants quarters, will be rendered in the same format as on TV, and the dining room will be full-sized, for example.
The exhibition was inspired by a smaller show, called Dressing Downton, which ended its run in St. Augustine early this year. It showcased 30 costumes.
“We thought, what if we did something that was a much, much bigger evocation of the series, with sets, costumes, lots of video content. That’s what we did,” Burns said.
The exhibition will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., including Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s day. Tickets are $35 for adults, with no charge for children under 14. For more information, visit www.downtonexhibition.com.
While the exhibition sets up in West Palm Beach, filming starts in the next few weeks on a Downton Abbey movie.
For CityPlace, the exhibition represents a play within a play, as the 20-year-old dining, shopping and entertainment venue seeks to re-imagine itself in a fast-changing retail world, into a center for arts, culture and community.
“We’re pivoting from a lifestyle center to an exciting urban neighborhood,” Gopal Rajegowda, senior vice president of CityPlace owner Related Cos., said Wednesday.
The Downton Abbey exhibition fits into that transformation, along with the Culture Lab art exhibition space in Macy’s, Restoration Hardware’s artistically painted, mansion-like gallery store on the Okeechobee Boulevard median, the “road tattoo” painted down the length of Rosemary Avenue, and the Armory Art Center-linked exhibition and classroom area near CityPlace’s Starbucks outlet, he said.
It was the show’s representatives, from Imagine Exhibitions, that expressed interest in West Palm, about six months ago, Rajegowda said. CityPlace, the City of West Palm Beach, Discover the Palm Beaches and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County were among the groups that worked to reel in the prospect.
“I think Brightline was a big reason” West Palm was chosen as well, because the new express train service held the promise of drawing visitors from throughout South Florida, he said.
For West Palm, the arrival of the exhibition fits the city’s efforts to put itself on the map. “Our legacy as an arts and cultural destination, paired with the popularity of this exhibition, is sure to make for an exciting season,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said.