Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Knott's Berry Farm hootenanny

 The 2012 Orange County Historical Society Annual Dinner, held at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant this past Friday is the reason I haven't posted much lately. It was a big event, with almost 200 people attending, and it was a lot of work -- but man was it a lot of fun! We started off with tours of the 1920s/30s areas of the park, led by historian Phil Brigandi and third-generation Knott's Berry Farm employee Allen Palovik. When folks came inside, they were greeted with rarely-seen artifacts, courtesy Jeff Shaddic, Knott's head of Park Decor. For instance, in the photo above, Allen is shown with a portrait of Walter Knott painted by Claude Bell. (Bell was famous not only for the life-sized concrete figures that now sit on benches around Knott's, but also for his giant dinosaurs in Cabazon, California.)
All my photos that evening were taken either before the crowd arrived, or after they had mostly dispersed. So I thank Betsy Vigus for the photo above which shows at least one corner of the room mostly full.

Mrs. Knott's chicken and boysenberry pie were even better than I remembered. And then -- after a few great old Knott's movies from the Orange County Archives were shown -- our main program began. Our speaker, Eric Lynxwiler, gave an outstanding talk on the history of Knott's Berry Farm. In about 45 minutes he told the story in a way I hadn't heard before, and he kept the audience in rapt attention. (Please also note Eric's amazing custom western shirt with a boysenberry print and rhinestone boysenberries on the shoulders!)
Everywhere I looked, there were people I wanted to stop and talk with, but there wasn't time! Luckily, I'd already had a couple chances to talk with Diann Marsh during her short Orange County visit. I was very pleased that she was able to attend. Diann did some excellent historical and preservation work in Orange County, and it was a real shame when she moved to Illinois. (Although I know the folks in Illinois feel quite differently.)
 It was also nice to see that not ALL the good theme park bloggers were over at the re-opening of Disney's California Adventure. The photo below shows Dave DeCaro of Daveland photographing artist Paul Von Klieben's original working maquette for one of Knott's first attractions: "The Transfiguration of Christ." I was also pleased to meet Mr. "TokyoMagic" of Meet The World.
 After his talk, Eric signed and sold copies of his book, Knott's Preserved, which he co-authored with Christopher Merritt.

For those of you who feel bad about having missed the tours, fear not. There's been so much demand, that we're saving the list of people who WANTED to go but signed up too late. I'm not sure when we'll do more tours, exactly, but certainly after the summer and Halloween Haunt crowds have thinned out.
 The photo above shows salvaged parts from the "Red Car" trolleys that were once part of the Knott's Beary Tales dark ride. The image below shows a poster from the Bird Cage Theatre in Ghost Town. That was always a family favorite, although I wish they'd changed the shows a bit more often when I was a kid.
The evening really went great as far as I can tell. It's always hard to know how other people see a program like this when you're at the center of the whirlwind. So far, the comments I've heard have been positive. I'd love to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly from folks who were out in the audience. You all seemed to be having a good time, but I like to know if there are things that were especially good (so we can repeat them) or especially not-so-good (so we can avoid them next time).
Above is a shot of the original artwork from the old Knott's Beary Tales storybook, which was also on display. (Does anyone have a copy to donate to the Archives?) In the photo below, John Waite -- Bud Hurlbut's right hand man -- and Dana H. show off an amazing photo montage of the Calico Mine Ride's interior, for which Dana recently won an award.
At least some of the many people who put this event together are shown below, standing next to a painting by Paul Von Klieben, which once hung in the Steakhouse at Knott's. (Von Klieben was the artist who designed a good deal of ghost town and did many paintings you would instantly recognize and associate with Knott's.) From left to right are Stephanie George (the event's director, producer, and unseen star), me, Allen Palovik, Phil Brigandi (wearing his dad's old jacket from Bob's Men's Shop), and of course, Eric Lynxwiler. Thanks also to the other OCHS board members who pitched in to help, to Heather Morales and Carolyn Schoff for their help with our raffle, and to Betsy Vigus who attended to so many details I would have forgotten. Special thanks to Helen Myers and her family for all pitching in and helping when we needed it most.
And thanks to everyone who attended. I know *I* had a great time, and I'm looking forward to next year's OCHS programs, events and annual dinner!


Daveland said...

My cover for the witness protection program has been blown. In any event, wow - it was great to see all those cool items around the restaurant. Thanks for all the hard work you put into this evening!

Anonymous said...

Wish so much I could have been there....Knott's was a significant part of my life through college, with all the changes it's too hard for me to go back to the park but I always welcome connecting with the nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

In what way did Eric speak that you hadn't heard before?

Chris Jepsen said...

Sorry, Dave. I didn't know you were being all secretive. I somehow think your cover may have been blown earlier by the fact that your face is on your Blogger icon. :-)

Anonymous: Everyone has their own way of telling the story. Most folks either concentrate on the early years or on the more recent stuff that triggers everyone's nostalgia. Eric gave a good balanced version of the whole story. But even after diving off into the era of roller coasters and Cedar Fair, he brought it back around to the Knott family. Also, he gently debunked a number of myths that have long been part of Knott's lore.

Eric also had the challenge of speaking to a group that was half Knott's fanatics and half people who were hearing the story for the first time. I thought he struck a great balance between introducing the facts to the newbies and giving us Knott-heads some new material to chew on.

Anonymous said...

A number of myths you say? The only one misnomer I'm aware of is the one about Knott's Ghost Town being made up of attractions and buildings that came from Calico Ghost Town, which most intelligent people already know is false. What others are there?

Major Pepperidge said...

It looks like I missed out. Darn! Oh well, I was out of town anyway, but it would have been fun.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this. I grew up at Knott's--my family owned one of the retail concessions and I worked there growing up. During my college years, I worked for the Hurlbut Amusement company (on the Log Ride), and spent much time tormenting John Waite (one of our supervisors). Good to see him looking well.

Great memories!

SundayNight said...

Thanks for this story and photos. I miss the old Knott's.

Anonymous said...

Wish I could attend, my father worked at Knotts, as a child I remember him exchanging greets while they drove Mr. Knott around the park, I later worked at the park ad a teenager. You write of myths, Im curious, and a bit embarrassed if it trues out to be false, Isee parts of a ttrolley, I was told they were donated to the City of San Francisco, anybody know about this? Thank you all,Mirna Pereda

Chris Jepsen said...

Mima: You wrote, "I see parts of a trolley, I was told they were donated to the City of San Francisco, anybody know about this?"

Knott's did have some original San Francisco trollies at one time, which they purchased from the city's warehouse. Much later, they gave the trollies back to the city of SF and they have since been used for spare parts from what I understand. That said, the trolley parts seen in this post are actually from the small fake trolleys used as ride vehicles for the old Knott's Beary Tales attraction. Different thing.