Batman and Robin showed up for Clark Pero’s 10th birthday in Chicago—on his TV, in the form of the 1966 series debut of the ABC TV show. “I was having my birthday and the first episode came on TV, and I said, ‘Oooo-weee! This is great!’ I felt like it was so special. I felt like it was meant for me,” Pero says.
Fifty years later, his suburban Henderson house is filled—virtually every room—with collectibles and handmade miniatures, all of which he says are influenced by a love of pop culture that started in his childhood.
“I am a baby boomer, and I’m cursed with a good memory,” Pero, husband and father of two adult children, says. The hobby began during a stint in the Army and moved with him to Chicago, Hawaii and finally Nevada, sharing the past 18 years of his life with his career in gaming. Entering Pero’s house is like walking into a miniature theme park, a history museum and a toy store all at once.
Right inside the front door you’ll see the collectible dolls he calls “the Idols” in a glass case: JFK, Jackie O, Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Obama. They stand on a base he made from a giant yard planter, turned over, painted.
Nearby are Cher and Shirley Temple, and on the coffee table in front of the living room sofa Barack Obama and another version of the First Lady. Some are limited-edition 16-inch Danbury Mint Collectibles, but others in the overflowing home are vintage Mattel or Disney toys.
Pero is a thin, thoughtful, bespectacled man with a calm presence. He walks through the house describing hundreds of items in their cultural context. He’s the kind of guy you wish you had anchoring your team on trivia night at the bar.
His collection of pop-culture relics and detailed miniatures sprawls across walls, shelves, tables and even the garage. Upstairs, there’s a media room (with a popcorn machine), featuring decades of TV and movie history artifacts like a small 3D scene from The Munsters 1960s TV show (assembled and hand-painted by Pero) and the 1966 Batman characters. The big-screen TV is surrounded by a who’s who of entertainment personality dolls, posters and dioramas: Popeye, Jaws, Rugrats, Tony the Tiger, Mini-Me, Lost in Space characters.
“I just enjoy all of it,” he says. And the crown jewel of “it” is his town.
“Peroville,” founded in 1980, occupies an 8-by-12-foot platform in his house where a family room might otherwise be, off of the kitchen. It’s a miniature civilization, complete with scads of tiny, hand-painted people—each about a centimeter tall and in varying positions; dozens of cars—some well-known four-wheeled personalities like Herbie the Love Bug and the car from Beverly Hills Cop; buildings, houses, roads, trees, functioning lights and even clouds and a plane hanging from the ceiling overhead. There’s a KFC, a McDonald’s, a church, bridges, schools, a hospital, a carousel—an entire miniature city.
Sprinkled throughout are clever re-creations of scenes from some of Pero’s favorite movies, such as the bloody car crash from 1967’s Hot Rod to Hell (Pero placed a flipped-over Corvette, then added hand-painted, bloodied bodies all around). Norman Bates’ mom’s house sits inconspicuously up on a hill. Other scenes are straight from Pero’s imagination: people getting married, people picnicking, people shopping, people dancing.
The town has electric slot cars, an electric Amtrak train rolling through town, several tiny dogs, a Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, a swimming pool. And tiny laundry hanging on a tiny clothesline behind an apartment.
“It’s always under construction,” he says. “When I have an idea in mind, I just start digging into it. I’ll be up at 2 or 3 a.m. still doing it.”
Sometimes he even dreams about it. Sometimes he dreams he’s in it, and it’s life-size, and he’s living in the neighborhood he built with houses for various family members. But sometimes, he has nightmares that the whole town fell. ”I run downstairs to see if it’s okay!” Fortunately, the town has suffered only minor knocks over the years; neither kids nor cats have done major damage.
Over the years, his wife developed an interest in creating the scenes, too, and now their goal is to show it and some of their collectibles to more people and perhaps even build similar scenes for others. “I would like to bring it out and share it,” Pero says. “It’s family oriented, and I think people would like to see it. … Ideally, I’d show it at a casino or a hobby shop storefront or something like that. … I’d like to do a show for Christmas.”
So what’s Clark Pero’s favorite item from the house of a million joys?
“Hmm ... My single favorite thing is that Batman collection. The 1966 characters. That came out on my birthday, and I wanted those so bad. Now I pretty much have everything I’ve sought, and I’m ready to share them and build things for other people.”