The California amusement parks we’ve lost forever

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – News that the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara will be closing in the next 11 years may bring back memories of other California theme parks that have shuttered over the years. These are a few of the most memorable parks that are gone for good.

Playland at the Beach

Playland at the Beach straddled San Francisco’s Ocean Beach on the western end of the Richmond neighborhood from 1913 till 1972, though the first ride — the Gravity Railroad roller coaster — opened in 1884.

A very popular attraction at Playland was a fun house featuring animatronic characters. Until a 1983 remodel, the fun house at the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk was identical on the inside to the Playland fun house.

There were also bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a shoot-the-chute, a carousel and a giant camera called the Camera Obscura.

A scene near Ocean Beach after the demolition of Playland at the Beach. The San Francisco amusement park closed earlier in 1972. (Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

After the death of General Manager George Whitney Sr. in 1958, Whitney’s widow sold her stake in Playland to a real estate developer, who in turn sold to Jeremy Ets-Hokin, who tore down the site in 1972 with the intention of building condominiums. Playland closed, with little fanfare, after Labor Day weekend.

However, the memory of the park lives on in the Bay Area: the Laughing Sal animatronic character is at the Musée Mécanique on Fisherman’s Wharf, the Camera Obscura is next to the Cliff House building, and the carousel is at Yerba Buena Gardens in the south of Market neighborhood.

The Pike/Queen’s Park

The Pike was an amusement park in Long Beach that opened in 1902 and closed in 1979. It was renamed Queen’s Park in the late 1960s after the RMS Queen Mary arrived to become a permanent fixture in the harbor of Long Beach.

A grisly moment happened just before the park’s bon voyage: While filming an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man” in December 1976, a crew member moved what he thought was a mannequin but turned out to be the corpse of Elmer McCurdy, a bank robber who was killed in 1911 in a shoot-out with police in Oklahoma. The corpse had heretofore been in the fun house exhibit.

Police were called and McCurdy’s body was taken to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office and a forensic anthropologist was called in to make a positive identification. McCurdy was subsequently given a proper burial in Oklahoma the following spring.

Pacific Ocean Park

More than 60 feet above ground, three plastic sea horses top the gateway to Neptune’s Courtyard at Pacific Ocean Park, shown Feb. 18, 1958. (AP Photo)

Pacific Ocean Park was much more short-lived than its southern neighbor, lasting only from July 26, 1958 to Oct. 6, 1967. It straddled the line between Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and was intended to compete with Disneyland, which had opened in Anaheim in 1955.

The park was a joint venture between CBS and the Santa Anita Park racetrack. The park was 28 acres and included a merry-go-round, a fun house, a mirror maze, the Westinghouse Enchanted Forest, and Flight to Mars.

The park was also used in the filming of episodes of the original “Twilight Zone,” along with other shows that aired on CBS at the time.

However, Disneyland won in the end, as an urban renewal project surrounding the park made it difficult for people to get in. The sale of rides and games were used to pay the park’s many debts. The park also owed back rent and taxes.

The pier the park sat on lived a ghostly half-life until it was finally torn down in the mid-1970s after a series of fires.

Manteca Waterslides

The Manteca Waterslides was a water park in Manteca, in San Joaquin County, from 1974 to 2004. Right off Interstate 5, it was also home to the Oakwood Lake Amphitheatre concert venue. The park closed Sept. 26, 2004, with the owners citing the increasing cost of labor.

The site once home to the waterslides is now, coincidentally, underwater, due to the expansion of nearby Oakwood Lake.

But that wasn’t the end of waterslides in Manteca. Just last year, the Great Wolf Lodge opened a 500-room indoor site with 16 waterslides.

Frontier Village

Frontier Village was an amusement park in San Jose from 1961 to 1980. Originally intended to be built in Sunnyvale along the El Camino Real, it collapsed after the San Jose City Council voted to only allow its expansion if it funded traffic improvements in the South Bay. The park also began to lose money after it was sued by neighbors who complained about noise and, ironically, when it started facing competition from Great America, which opened in 1976.

A residential development also called Frontier Village replaced it.

The theme was the Old West, and the park included a ride in a horseless carriage, a Ferris wheel, and a canoe ride.