Friday, July 19, 2013

The Time Capsule Amusement Park

Every year, for the summer reading program at the library, the kids earn free tickets to Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver.

The last couple of years, Tim took the big kids only.

This year, we all went.

Oh. My. Goodness.

That place is heaven for people like me, who love all things cultural history and old.

The amusement park has been in the same place since 1908. It has grown over the years, but only in adding things, not in remodeling or remaking or replacing things. The result is a fantastic, mostly unrestored museum of amusement park history, with signs, rides, and ticket booths highlighting different eras in design and history.

Many of the rides appear to be vintage. At least one is a non-functioning antique that has been there so long the trees have grown up into the ride.  Even the kiddie rides appear to be vintage--car racers, chrome-and-steel roller coaster, 40's style bombers.  There are some awesome art deco things going on there--a "Whip" ride that is all chrome-and-deco. Ticket booths that are quintessential art deco. There are some very very 60s color-block buildings and signs, some oh-so-50s "future world" kinds of signs. Fountains hidden in bushes because they changed things up. 1920s once-fountains that are now planters scattered around, the lion heads on the sides still painted gold.

The place is a treasure!

My favorite parts were the 100+ year old carousel and the defunct mini-train that used to circle the lake.

The carousel is AMAZING. It has all original, antique wooden animals. The horses still have real horsehair tails! Seriously. I couldn't believe they let people ride these old, collectible horses, but we went round and round, up and down, riding horses, pigs, rabbits, zebras, gazelle. It was gorgeous and amazing, all at once. I hear it's the oldest continuously-functioning carousel in the US, but I don't remember where I heard that. It was amazing, though (and the girl who ran it, Mariah, was super awesome). I still can't believe that people are allowed to touch that thing. It should be in the Smithsonian.

Anyway, the little railway line had two trains--a very Disneyland-style little open train like they have at a lot of zoos (and Disneyland), and a mini chrome-plated art deco train that was unbelievably cool. The tracks went around the lake, and past a vintage grandstand that was all in disarray that looked over the lake. Tim told me they used to have speed boats on the lake as part of the park. The dock is still there, but the little walking bridges that go over the train tracks are falling apart, so you can't get to the dock. And the boats are gone.

There is also a early 1900s white wooden roller coaster. And an old ferris wheel. Both still functioning, of course.

Oh, and next to the parking lot is an old wooden "Speedway". It's closed, and we didn't try to get inside even though I really, really wanted to. I could see from the parking lot, though, that trees were growing up through the grandstand seating area, so I'm guessing it hasn't been used in well over 50 years. I want to go inside and look around, though. Wouldn't that be the coolest thing? I just want to go explore and excavate the history! It's so incredible. All of it was.

The whole place was really amazing. You could trace the growth of the park by looking at the lamp posts. As they added new sections, they made no efforts to make the lamp posts match the rest of the park. Instead, they added newest-latest-coolest lampposts. So you can walk through the park and see lampposts from the 1900s, and the 1930s, and the's super amazingly cool.

I would pay to park there and not have any rides--just walk around and enjoy the old stuff.

What I think they should do with that place is put a little money into restoring it, and then open it as a living history amusement park. I don't think there are any of those around. I've never heard of one. So you let people ride the rides still, but you put the ride operators in vintage costumes (if they'd go for it--mostly they had teens trying to make a buck on a summer job running things). And you put up displays, signs, etc identifying the history, the historical design elements, talking about how people had fun through the ages, etc. The thing this place has that other places don't have is a handful of vintage rides from each of the major eras (note that we didn't see much from the 40s--wartime materials shortages would have prevented them from building new stuff, I imagine), so you could have a wonderful walk through history where people could actually still ride and try and experience the history instead of just gaze and ask questions.

As it is, if you don't want to try the rides--if you just want to see--it costs $2.50 per person to go in. Very reasonable for a museum, even if they think they're an amusement park. And super cool.

They just need signs on all those exhibits....

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