Monday, March 29, 2010

" Knott's Preserved " From Boysenberry to Theme Park, the History of Knott’s Berry Farm

How could one place have the world’s best boysenberry preserves, world-class roller coasters, and Independence Hall, too? Where does a Ghost Town exist alongside a two-hundred-foot Sky Jump, while people wait three hours for a chicken dinner? "Knott’s Preserved: From Boysenberry to Theme Park, the History of Knott’s Berry Farm" has all the answers— and many, many more.

Original art for the cover of the 1950 souvenir guidebook by Paul von Klieben.

Walter Knott and Paul von Klieben - the second, and most influential art director of Ghost Town in 1947. Von Klieben has responsible for most of Ghost Town as we know it - he served as art director at Knott's from 1943 until 1953.

From the earliest days of the Farm, when Walter Knott, his wife Cordelia, and
their kids were serving up baskets of berries “as big as a man’s thumb” and berry pies that weighed in at three pounds, to the advent of themed rides, Camp Snoopy replete with the Peanuts gang, and the arrival of the fastest coasters the coast had ever seen — it’s all in this great Knott’s Preserved book.

Flyer - circa. 1939. The Farm begins to become a roadside attraction, with the addition of the Volcano and Rock Garden.

A view of Knott's Berry Farm Ghost Town. © David Eppen 2010

Written by Christopher Merritt and J. Eric Lynxwiler with a foreword by Tony Baxter Knott’s Preserved have 200 images — most of them never-before published — and reveals exactly how the Knott family turned a berry business into one of the major theme parks in the world. The two authors display—the how-it-happened of Knott’s from the earliest days. The berries and fried chicken were just a yummy lead-in to what would become a majot theme park with thrills attractions. Plus, it’s a story of how a man and a woman remained true to their values, sharing profits and credit whenever they could.

So, for everybody who ever put their arms around Whiskey Bill and Handsome Brady, screamed in terror at Knott’s Scary Farm, or marveled at the Calico Mine, this is the book that’s filled with as much nostalgia as the Farm itself. Knott’s Preserved is definitely a must for every theme park lover and all those kids at heart.

Original art for the Bird Cage Theatre by Paul von Klieben - c. early 1950s.

Among the great creative people who created Knott's attractions there was Eddie Sotto who kindly answered my questions and share his memories about Knott's.

D&M: You worked at Knott's before you enter WDI, what did attract you in the fact to design rides for Knott's? Were you going there often when you were younger and what did you liked as a kid?

Eddie Sotto: Knott's was free admission till the late 1960's, so as a kid my mother would take me often and I loved it. Very warm and folksy. You walked slower there, nothing to run off to, you're at the farm! Chickens running under your car in the grassy parking lot. Not corporate, like going to your grandparents house and you feel welcome. Truly unique and it had SOUL. Unlike Disneyland, Knott's had memorable food. Boysenberry Juice and the famous Chicken. We'd ride the Steam Train, the Calico Mine Ride, visit the petting zoo and seal feeding, and a visit to the Model Train store was truly magical. Full of antiques, Knott's transported you back to the old west in a way that was must and rust. Knott's was gritty reality, splinters and all. Big Trains, loud Guns and Robbers in the streets. Disneyland was white enamel fantasy and you rushed to get it all in.

Silver Dollar Saloon - Nov. 1949. Les Jones working at the bar.

Ghost Town and Buena Park Fire Departments - c- 1950.

E.S: In 1979, I joined the Knott's Design and Planning Department (asst. Project Designer) and presented a ride that never got built, but instead ended up redoing an existing attraction into the "Soap Box Racers" Ride. It was very popular as kids competed against each other in small orange crate looking "Soap Box" cars on a closed track (Imagine "Spanky and Our Gang" meets "NASCAR"). We called it the first "outdoor dark ride". It was finally removed after running for a decade or more. I was at Knott's just over 3 years and also worked on "Camp Snoopy" before heading elsewhere.

D&M: I've heard that because Knott's Berry Farm opened before Disneyland it should be considered as the first theme park...

E.S: I know that is what has been said, and there is an argument for it, but it's a matter of opinion. Places like Greenfield Village in Michigan came first in the 1920's. The funny thing about that designation is that the places that came earlier never set out to be a "theme park" per se, they organically grew from another intent. Knott's added the Ghost Town to entertain the Dinner line at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, and as a themed roadside attraction certainly came first, as Walt would go out there and inspect it. The emphasis on adding rides was post Disneyland. Chris tells us how Walter Knott was inspired by a Western themed "land" at the San Diego Exposition done by Set Designer Harry Oliver called "Gold Gulch", so it's a bit hard to give that first theme park prize out that easily. Coney Island's "Dreamland" and "Luna Park" had their own unique, themed architecture that immersed you in another world, so to me they are themed in that way. Disneyland invented the industry as the term "theme park" did not exist until Disneyland came about, and so I will always consider it to be the first true theme park.

Above, Calico saloon - 1960s.

Above, Calico Saloon interior - c. 1952.

D&M: Did Knott's served as inspiration for Disneyland and/or Disneyland attractions, and if yes, which one? For instance, can we say that the Calico Mine ride inspired Big Thunder Mountain?

E.S: Tony Baxter will be the first to tell you how much the Calico Mine inspired certain aspects of BTM. It even played a role in the layout of Indiana Jones. We used to talk about how the Calico Mine Ride has an amazing spiraling track plan and shared the same large interior set, but it was viewed from differing angles, so we did the same with Indy's Temple. Walt used to step off the distances of the streets and watch the crowds. Bud Hurlbut, who built the rides at KBF knew Walt as well. The story I heard was that Walter Knott and Disney were friends till he hired the Indians away. Don't know if that is true.

Above, Calico Mine Ride, Cavern scene - c. late 1960.

D&M: Now, in 2010, what makes the charm of Knott's Berry Farm? what is the park's legacy?

E.S: Today Knott's is positioned very differently than it was back in the day with an emphasis on Thrill Rides and the Haunt. Times change. What I love about Knott's is it is a story about a sharecropper who opens a berry stand and because he does not give up, let's his better product lead him in new and bold directions. He "surfed the waves he got". When there was a huge line to buy dinners in front of his house, he adds an attraction to entertain them. When they want more he finds a way to build it. Why? Because he is passionate about the message in his "Ghost Town". He wants to tell us of his success and encourage others to follow their dreams. Like Walt Disney, he does not want future generations to forget the "hard facts that have created America". I think that today there can be too much emphasis on giving the guests "happy meals" in the form of rides that are just primal thrills or franchise based entertainment, and not enough attention to feeding them a better diet of reassurance. I'm thrilled that Chris has done this book, because it serves as a reminder of how passionate people, not a business plan, are what brought us these great places and why those success stories are important to our future.

Above, Souvenir fun map - 1971.

Knott's Preserved book signing and all-day ticketed event:

Before we end this article i want to let you know that a not-to-be-missed event will take place on Sunday, April 18: Authors Christopher Merritt and J. Eric Lynxwiler along with introduction author and legendary WDI Imagineer Tony Baxter will be at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant to sign limited-edition, hardback copies of Knott's Preserved. The book signing is open to everyone but there will be too a wonderful ticketed event planned for guests who would like to learn more about Knott's history.

Also during the event a panel discussion with former Knott's designers: Guests include Rolly Crump (Knott's Bear-y Tales), Chris Crump (Knott's Bear-y Tales), Dean Davisson (public relations 1958-1976), John Waite (Halloween Haunt) and Eddie Sotto (Wacky Soap Box Racers)! You will find on this link more infos and the PDF file that you need to register for this memorable event: Knott's Preserved Event.

If you're living in California, don't miss it, and most of all don't miss this great book, Knott's Preserved is available at starting $26.40 only!

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

All pictures: copyright Knott's


JohnPatrick said...

I can remember as a boy going through Knotts and looking at all the great Antiques that Gramps had on his farm as well. Loved the Gold panning concestion and the little single stamp mill pounding away along the water flume. When Tony Baxter invited Bud Hurlbut over to Disneyland in 1979 to take a walk about through our new 1st Big Thunder under construction, I got to show him our mining artifacts and sets I had collected for the show and refurbished. Real mine tailings at the base of the mountain and used in all the stone retaining walls pointed out to him. I guess we must have inspired Bud as he did us, for he went back to Knott's and added more mining and logging artifacts to his attractions. Our 4th Big Thunder in Paris Disneyland is truly inspired by Walt's and Bud's early leads.

Dr Bitz said...

Knott's had warehouses full of antiques and so much had been tossed out after Walter Knott became ill. People would just send things knowing Mr. Knott had the farm as his collection. I remember an entire saloon backbar in there one day! What a unique experience to crawl through those Adobe buildings and see boxes of old stuff. the family's stuff was in the offices too. Marion Knott's School yearbook, full of signatures and dedications was on our bookshelf. Nothing like the farm.