In all of Weird New Jersey, this man's property may be the weirdest

A section of the wall in front of businessman Byung Taek Kim's estate in Bass River Township, NJ. The eccentric display atop the wall is a traffic-stopping spectacle along Route 9.

Ah, New Jersey: home to Cheesequake, Ong’s Hat, Recklesstown, Hog Holler, and Buckshutem.

With place names like these, it’s no wonder residents have developed an affection for tales of its strangest places -- like the elusive village of “Midgetville,” where grumpy “little people” living in tiny homes supposedly shoot at unwanted strangers.

Then there’s the creepy “Devil’s Tree” in Bernard Township where, it is said, a farmer hanged himself after killing his family -- and which still gives off a strange warmth so no snow falls around it.

Alas, many such tales dissolve into myth upon close scrutiny. But for a slice of authentic, over-the-top New Jersey eccentricity, enter “5847 Route 9 Bass River Township” into a GPS.

With luck you’ll find yourself rounding a bend on a rural road in Burlington County and emerging onto a jaw-dropping spectacle that will leave you wondering if Lucy the Margate Elephant had given birth to an amusement park.

Welcome to -- but please stay outside -- the 53-acre estate of businessman Byung Taek Kim, who since 2010 has been heaping onto its 1,000-foot front wall a carnival of giant dinosaurs, angels, cannons, dragons, toys, clowns, and other kitsch so vast and various as to challenge all ordinary conventions of taste.

“Perhaps the most uniquely personalized property in all of Weird New Jersey,” is how the magazine named Weird NJ  described it.

The spectacle can so astonish first-time motorists that it’s the scene of accidents. But once the head-shaking wears off, the best way to appreciate Kim’s unique personalization is to savor his creation slowly, on foot.

Made of stuccoed cinder block, painted a deep salmon, and topped by a limestone cap, Kim’s wall stands about seven feet high for most of its length.

And what a length it is.

A few yards east of the first faux cannon doze two plaster peasants in sombreros, followed by a giant dinosaur, two more cannon, and a full-size amphibious boat painted in camouflage. Next comes statues of deer, a fiberglass clown head, an ornamental stack of cannonballs, another cannon, a child’s apple-shaped drive toy, a large elephant topped by a baby elephant, a lamb, five small elephants, another deer, another cannon, several small dragons, and a large, concrete blue sea serpent whose four parts give the illusion it’s swimming atop the wall.

And this is just the first third of Kim’s amazing wall, which pauses at a pink-painted iron gate where a full-size bull, two chrome Roman soldiers, and a smiling elephant stand guard.   

“People stop and ring the bell,” Uriel Gomez, one of its caretakers, said with a laugh. “They think it’s a public park, but it’s private property.”

Some locals call the wall a “treasure,” Bass River Township Clerk Amanda Somes said last week, “and some people think it’s atrocious,” and like it or not, it’s legal.  “We don’t have any ordinances prohibiting giant, concrete Tyrannosaurus Rexes,” she said with a shrug.

The menagerie is the creation of the 66-year-old  Kim, owner of a North Jersey-based chain of Korean-style spas and waterparks bearing the names King Spa and Super King Spa.

Located in suburban Chicago and Dallas, with a new one opening next year outside Washington, D.C., Kim’s enormous, lavishly decorated spas feature water slides, pools, saunas, massages, body scrubs, TV lounges, and restaurants serving up such Korean delicacies as seaweed soup and soondubu.

Here, for $25 to $40, visitors may spend up to 24 hours in another world.

The King Spa in suburban Chicago, for example, features an “amethyst room” where “crystals extract toxins within the body;” a near-freezing “ice room” that “stimulates blood flow and tightens pores;” an “ochre room” featuring infrared rays; and a “pyramid room” sauna decorated with gilded sphinxes.

His spas are “100 percent Korean style” Kim explained Saturday, taking a break from driving golf balls across his estate’s enormous front lawn.

Thin, with a vertical shock of gray hair, he wore an orange polo shirt and khaki trousers as his three dogs -- a collie, a chocolate Labrador and a Dalmatian puppy -- frolicked around him and a rubber punching dummy wearing broken sunglasses looked on.

On the far west side of the field stood the pink-trimmed, 14-room main house -- a mansard-roofed affair of 11,000 square feet built in the 1970s by the previous owner -- which Kim does not use.

He maintains an apartment on the top floor of a utility building that houses tractors, cars, and a giant backhoe, behind which he keeps horses, rabbits, and peacocks..

“He’s an eccentric,” explained his daughter-in-law, Sophia Kim, whom Kim put briefly on his cellphone.

Gesturing to a small airplane sitting in the driveway, Kim explained in halting English that it used to sit on the wall “but the wind under it made it fall down and break.” He pointed to the fuselage of a new airplane that just arrived from Texas. The Gomez brothers will be assembling it and placing it on the wall soon.

Kim, who rarely gives interviews, according to the caretakers, said that when he acquired the property seven years ago he began by creating a sculpture garden at the rear of the grounds, and then “moved to the front” and began decorating the wall “to make people happy.” These include passing motorists and his children and grandchildren, who visit from North Jersey.

He and his wife also have an apartment in Fort Lee, where he is a supporter of the Korean martial art of Taekwondo.

His favorite object on the wall is the elephant, Kim said. There is no theme or secret message to it all. He just loads it with stuff, he explained, “to make it beautiful.”

Adelid Gomez, caretaker since 2010, said Kim finds many of the items at auctions. “He don’t care if some people don’t like it,” he said.

Arnold Scharfstein, 76, of Egg Harbor Township, who got a tour of the estate from Kim in 2012, described him as “a really nice, interesting man.” He said Kim told him he buys many of his objects from defunct amusement parks.

As the wall progresses west it displays a lion, a dragon, an eight-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex, two angels flanking a five-foot statue of Jesus, two seven-foot Transformer statues, a windmill, another Jesus and angels, three giraffes, a white Statue of Liberty, two soldiers on horseback, and -- visible through a second pink-painted gate -- a dragon on a pedestal, flanked by two angels.

“He looks for odd things.” said Scharfstein, who said his affection for the wall has waned lately. “It’s getting kind of grotesque,” he said.    

John Christie, 40, who was getting lunch recently at the Patio Drive-In down the road, described the wall as “Interesting. Entertaining. There’s always something new.” But he said the road outside Kim’s wall is the scene of numerous accidents.  “People drive by and say `What is this house?’ and don’t pay attention to where they’re going.”

Town clerk Somes said there have been accidents, but some were associated with road construction.

Kim Forgach, who was leaving the luncheonette with a chocolate ice cream cone, said she’d once been at a diner where Kim tipped a waitress a $20 on a small lunch order, “He’s very, very nice,” she said, but called his property “tacky.”

Jim Manney, owner of the Patio Drive-in, rolled his eyes. “I don’t like it,” he said. “The thing that bothers me is that it’s such an attraction. People stop, they get out, they start texting, there are accidents. And yet the town’s always on me about my signs.

“But it’s his property,” Manney said with a shrug. “He can do whatever he wants.”

Staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.