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Salisbury Beach past comes alive through gingerbread

Americo Tomberllo (left) and Liam Kozak check out the Salisbury Beach-themed display.

Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Americo Tomberllo (left) and Liam Kozak check out the Salisbury Beach-themed display.

The Salisbury Beach of today bears little resemblance to the one that was home to carnival games, rides, and concert halls during its height into the 1980s. But the past lives on in the hearts of a community that forged lifelong memories of the strip bordering the Atlantic, where the ocean and the sky seem to blend in the distant horizon.

A snapshot of a time that shaped so many who grew up in town has been recreated at Seaglass Restaurant and Lounge in the form of a 300-plus-pound gingerbread display created by bartender James “Hollywood Jim” Shalkoski. But it was the memories of those who experienced the old Salisbury Beach firsthand, gathered in the restaurant’s pavilion on Nov. 29 for the lighting ceremony of the Salisbury Beach Past and Present Fantasy Gingerbread House, which made the past come alive.

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Jim Pollard, 78, a retired police officer and nearly lifelong resident, remembers roller-skating at the rink that once stood on the site of the restaurant. To him, there was no better place to spend a childhood afternoon.

Millie Greaney moved to Salisbury when she was in first grade, and later became one of the town’s first kindergarten teachers. She has lived in town ever since, and at 91, has seen all that the beach’s vibrant community has offered through the years. In her words, there are “too many favorite things” about the old Salisbury to pick one that stands out.

Jim Shalkoski poses in front of a gingerbread house he made of Salisbury Beach Past & Present.

WINSLOW TOWNSON FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Jim Shalkoski poses in front of a gingerbread house he made of Salisbury Beach Past & Present.

Ed Monette did not hesitate to point out his favorite: the Himalaya, a tilt-a-whirl ride that was the place to be at Shaheen’s Fun-O-Rama, where the Lawrence native and Hampton, N.H., resident spent his summers in the 1980s as a DJ.

“That was the place to work,” Monette said. “If you worked on that ride, you know you made it at Shaheen’s.”

The ride, an edible model of which spun on a Christmas tree stand at the front of the gingerbread house, was the date-night destination for young sweethearts in town, said Jilda Patten. She grew up in Newburyport but spent her summers in Salisbury, where her father, Roger Shaheen, owned the amusement park.

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That was “the major spot for teenagers,” Patten said. “A lot of romances on that Himalaya.

“My most striking memory is how safe, family-oriented, and how many wonderful memories and smiles it brought to so many people of all ages,” Patten said. “It was a safe place to let your children come down, to walk around.”

Shalkoski, a professional actor, artist, and bartender who began baking as a hobby about two years ago, built the gingerbread display by himself in three weeks.  He used 256 square feet of gingerbread, baked from scratch. The ingredient list includes about a half-ton of confectioners’ sugar, 360 eggs, 10 pounds of white chocolate, and upwards of 1,000 Christmas lights.

Town manager Neil Harrington spoke briefly at the ceremony, and about 15 children from the Boys & Girls Club of Lower Merrimack Valley  helped light the creation, which includes other landmarks from Salisbury Beach’s past, such as the old Coast Guard Watch Tower, Bob’s Roast Beef, and the Victorian-style Ocean Echo building that housed The Frolics. It will be on display through Jan. 14.

Jackie Guilmette recalled an “amazing time” growing up with the beach as a favorite destination, and made sure to point out that despite the difference in physical landscape between past and present, some things never change.

“It’s a beautiful beach,” Guilmette said. “And the people here are amazing.”

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com.

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