Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Knotts Preserved: What it took to get me there, pt. 1
Back in January 1980, my high school band flew from Philly to Los Angeles to march in the Rose Parade in Pasadena. One of the things we did on that trip was to eat at Cordelia Knotts' famous restaurant at Knotts Berry Farm. This was my only exposure to Knotts, and my dim memory was that I didn’t think it was anything special. Thirty years later I had still not returned, even though most readers know that I am habitually at the gates of that neighboring theme park in Anaheim. The restaurant wasn’t a huge pull (heck, I could get Fried Chicken here at home), and from what I’d heard of the Knotts Theme Park, there really wasn’t much to see there either.
What did it take to get me there? Chris Merritt’s new book, Knotts Preserved. Merritt helped put together a full day of lectures, presentations, tours, and of course a dinner at the Knotts restaurant (along with some free time to explore the park). What a deal...I couldn’t pass this package up. What better way to see the park than the through the eyes of people who put some of the attractions together and the local historians who could give all the interesting background information.
There were a number of Disney bloggers there as well, all anxious to take the Ghost Town tour expertly led by Orange County Historians Phil Brigandi and Chris Jepsen. Here in this photo are Patrick (aka “Stuff from the Park”), Chris J., incredibly talented artist Kevin Kidney, and the author himself, Chris Merritt.
We met at the fountain behind Virginia’s Gift Shop (in operation since the 1930’s), which is where Phil began the tour. A bad tour guide can really kill the day; this was definitely not the case with Phil. His booming voice, expert knowledge, and humorous story-telling made the tour seem like it went by too quickly.
For me, Ghost Town is the big attraction at Knotts. In my opinion, rollercoasters and thrill rides are a dime a dozen; you can build the biggest and the fastest, but within a year or so, another one will come along and make your attraction obsolete. A Ghost Town though...wow! To be able to walk streets that evoke a time period long gone can be incredibly intoxicating. I have to give Cedar Fair/Knotts kudos for keeping this area alive. Sure, there have been some changes, but much of the original flavor is still there in this section of the park.
Here’s the Bird Cage Theater, modeled after the one in Arizona:
Also where comedian, writer, and actor Steve Martin got his start on the stage back in the early 1960’s:
There were plenty of hand-crafted details, aged to perfection to give the feeling that you had actually stepped back in time:
Some of the original buildings that had fallen into disrepair had recently been restored:
Naturally every western town has a saloon:
...and a train:
...and plastic barrel-themed trashcans and large Pepsi recycling containers:
What??? Yes, admittedly there are a number of things that break the illusion, such as the coasters and other modern attractions visible nearby. With the limited acreage at their disposal, Knotts & Cedar Fair certainly have a dilemma on their hands. How does one appeal to the current generation seeking thrills and new attractions while still appealing to those of us who appreciate the smaller creative details that are part of the rich family history of Knotts? I don’t envy the management, that’s for sure. Stay tuned readers—more Knotts to come!
Meanwhile, over in Anaheim...I was able to get a shot of the video portion of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” which shows a portion that was filmed at the New Orleans/Frontierland Depot (during Tokyo Magic’s favorite “Two Brothers” segment):
Abe was still wowing the guests:
Progress is still being made on the Gullywhumper Keelboat (which, according to Tony Baxter, has "portions" of the original, such as the hull):
And that’s it for today! Follow my updates on Twitter. See more vintage (and current) Knotts Berry Farm photos on my regular website.