Today’s upscale modern Knotts Berry Farm, in the town of Buena Park, was not always circled by a high wall, did not always have the modern attractions of towering roller coasters, and at one time, cost nothing to enter and meander among the attractions.
I all began, when Walter Knott started selling Berries from a roadside stand, in the 1920’s. Located along a section of Highway 39, which is now known as “Beach Blvd”. In 1934 he persuaded his wife Cordelia, to serve Chicken dinners,, which she did on her wedding china, with boysenberry pie for desert. As the small town grew, so did the Knott’s tea room and farm market, becoming a popular place for motorists to stop, and take a break from the tedious two hour trip, while driving between Los Angeles and the nearby beaches of Orange County. There were no freeways in those times.
Over a period of time the Knott’s market and restaurant expanded, as did the area around them, places to entertain the patrons waiting in line, for a seat in the small tearoom. Towards this end Walter Knott built a 20 foot volcano of lava rock, equipped with a boiler, that rumbled, hissed and spit steam at the push of a button. It quickly became a favorite place for dinner patrons to amuse themselves while waiting for a seat, and was the forerunner of the gold mine, which allowed guests to pan for gold, which evolved into the entrance to the Gold Rider rollercoaster.
Walter began building the present day “Ghost Town” in the 1940’s, it was a favorite place for my kids to visit, in the 50’s when we lived on Western Avenue, just a short walk away from Knotts Berry Farm. Buildings were relocated from, old ghost towns, found in the west, relics of the past were added and this popular attraction grew to include – Deadwood’s grave marker, showing he died with his boots on; Hop Wing Lee the Chinese laundry proprietor; the Barber shaving “One-eye Ike” while contemplating his wanted poster hanging nearby; a piano player outside the Silver Dollar Saloon, where cups of boysenberry drink could be purchased; a female leg in fishnet stocking, boots and petticoats, hanging outside a upstairs window of Goldie’s Place; these a much more can still be seen in one of the oldest sections of present day Knotts Berry Farm.
For those who wanted to remember the past, benches were placed on the boardwalk, with fiberglass figures of grizzled prospectors, so they could take photos with them, maybe you have one or more stached away in your files; nearby was the Blacksmith’s shop with a real live Blacksmith in a large leather apron, stoking the hearth with bellows, while using a hammer to forge the red hot iron into horseshoe souvenirs, this is still a working blacksmith where many of the ironworks in the park, were fabricated.
In the covered wagon camp live performances of country western music and singers were featured watched by guests who sat inside, painted Conestoga wagons, that circled the campground and the Butterfield Stagecoach, hauled by trained horses, carried passengers on a journey north through the badlands, where they would be stopped and robbed in true western fashion, by the bad men.
Many of the structures in Calico Square come from the ghost town of Calico, which Walter Knott purchased in 1951, and reassembled at his fast growing attraction in Buena Park . Fronting the Square was Calico Saloon where variety shows with Can Can dancers, vaudeville routines and a piano player was the main attraction. An inside balcony provided the best seats to see the show and tables to eat at. Outside in the square was a “medicine show” where Dr. Mal-do-mars peddled his boysenberry elixir and a young Steve Martin played banjo, between his stints at the Bird Cage Theater. The ever popular shoot-outs between cowboys and the Sherrif’s posse, can still be seen in today’s modern Knotts Berry Farm.
The Calico Mile train, which still operates at Knotts, took visitors on a narrated journey through the Calico Mines and vistas of an underground lake, steam geysers, a day-glow painted cavern featuring formation of stalactites hanging from the ceiolings and stalagmites buuilding up from the floor, accompanied by dramatic organ music; a trestle was crossed, followed by a dramatic run-a-way and cave in, before the climax of the power assisted, gravity driven roller-coaster.
In 1960 Hurlbut Amusement Company began operating Knotts lagoon attractions – a merry-go-round, row and pedal boat rentals, Cordilla K Steamboat side-wheel steamer, the minature train circling the lagoon and Timber Mountain Log ride, adding another reason to visit Knotts Berry Farm.
A true replica of Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon in Langtry Texas was opened in the park with coin operated gambling machines, where every pull rewarded with a souvenir token and casks on the side of the bar dispursed boysenberry drinks. Couples could get hitched in a comic matrimonial ceremony, the ring was a bent horseshoe nail, and on the wall hung a painting of, what was supposed to be Lillie Lantry, and turned out to be the unsinkable Molly Brown. This is one wedding no one would forget.
As expansion continued, not only to Knotts Berry Farm, but the entire city, Beach Boulevard cut through the park resulting in a tunnel being built to go under the street to Jungle Island, home of the Woodniks, creatures made of wood with glowing googly eyes and speakers to give them a voice, a popular place for kids to play hide-an-seek and other kids games. Jungle Island was incorporated into the park in 1990, but my kids, now adults, still remember the many evening spent playing there.
In the 60’s the park was visited more by local people, than by tourists, children who visited the park during those years, can recall taking the battery-electric powered San Francisco Cable Car to the south end of the parking lot to drive Model T cars, ride a burro around Calico Mine, walk thru the Haunted Shack or visiting Boot Hill Cemetry. The laid back ambience and openness has gone, these days Knotts has grown to be a major attraction, a rival to nearby Disney – which tried to purchase it in 1997 but was refused by the remaining family members.
The Park is now surrounded by high walls, which enclose six themed areas:
Ghost Town, Fiesta Village, The Boardwalk, Camp Snoopy, Wild Water Wilderness and Indian Trails – and is dominated by roller coasters. Admidst all the changes and expansions, Knotts Berry Farm has retained it’s ability to attract visitors from all parts of the United States and the world at large, perhaps due to the fact, that so much of the charm of the old Knotts Berry Park remains to amuse and entertain a new generation.