Sunday, February 24, 2013

another day, another historic rabbit trail - Peralta Playland

On Friday I attended a press event to celebrate the reopening of part of the channel between Lake Merritt and the estuary as part of the larger 12th Street Project. I was invited by Erik Niemann, who has been tracking the progress of the 12th Street Project on his blog. After the event, Erik and I talked a bit, and he mentioned a train tunnel nearby. It seems that the site next to the Kaiser Convention Center had been home to a small amusement park called Peralta Playland, and the tunnel from the miniature steam train called the Oakland Acorn was still around. This was getting interesting.

Lil' Belle

I had planned on stopping at the Oakland History Room before heading over to city hall to see an exhibit from the National Park Service about the Anza Trail, but now I had something else to research. When I got there, I checked out the current exhibit, which shows historical info about Oakland's waterways, which was fitting since I'd just been at one. I mentioned Peralta Playland to librarian Dorothy Lazzard, and she said, "Oh, have you seen the picture of Lil' Belle from there? It's part of the waterways exhibit."

By this time I'd forgotten what I'd originally come to the history room to research. Peralta Playland, Lil' Belle, the Oakland Acorn, and who knows what other connections there were to research? I searched old Oakland Tribune articles, learning about some of the rides, and then I found a map showing the route of the "viking launch", which plied the waters between Peralta Playland, Children's Fairyland, and the duck pond on the east side of the gardens. And what's this? The Hippopotamus Train going overland between Children's Fairyland, through the gardens, to the duck pond and back?

I've been putting everything I found onto the Oakland Wiki page I created for Peralta Playland. It's a good start, but there's lots more to learn, like: when did the park close? what was the story about the lawsuit over the creation of the "Star Flyer"? what other rides were there?

Did you ever go to Peralta Playland as a kid? What are your memories of it?

That wasn't Friday's only rabbit trail. On my way to Lake Merritt, I was thinking about where to eat after. Woody's Cafe? Is Portal open for lunch? What about that pho place that @BikeBlogChris mentioned, Pho Ao Sen? That's around here somewhere. Riding from the library towards city hall, I thought, "oo...I could stop at Disco Volante! Or what about Aria, that Afghan place I've been meaning to try?" I did eventually make it to city hall to check out the exhibit. I decided to head up to Burma Superstar in Temescal, in part to check out the new bike rack in front of it. But my ride up Telegraph involved thinking about each of the following in turn: Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, Telegraph, Commonwealth Cafe, Oasis Food Market, Beauty's Bagels, Homeroom, Cafe Eritrea, Arbor Cafe, maybe one of those Korean places, Lanesplitter...oops, wait. Right, Burma Superstar. I'm glad I was great. I'll write more about that some time.

And then there were the historic rabbit trails I started down at Saint Mary's Cemetery and Mountain View Cemetery after lunch...


Thinking of Design said...

The Lil' Belle was built by Arrow Development of Mountain View, who were contracted by Walt Disney to build rides for Disneyland. Between 1953 and 1970 Arrow would develop the ride system for at least fifteen of Disney's attractions, including the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion.
It is a fascinating, little told story with deep roots in the Bay Area.

Arlette said...

Good thing you didn't try Disco Volante:

Paul said...

I was there during the debut of the Star Flyer. We arrived very early in great anticipation. Bob March of Captain Satellite fame was there to take part in the festivities. I do remember the projected images of space and the seats that moved during take-off. But what has stuck with me more than anything was that a group of kids and their parents were allowed on the ride first, even though we had arrived much, much earlier. I remember my dad telling me that they were some VIPs. It was one of my first experiences with how the world really works!

Elmalatina said...

My parents took my older siblings and me back from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s. I remember the little train ride and I seem to remember riding ponies. Plus the fact that we would get dressed up to go there. Thanks for the memory!

Unknown said...

I just found out that one of Peralta Playland's rides, called Bulgy the Whale, came from King Norman's Kingdom of Toys amusement park in Concord when it closed!

Unknown said...

Oops, there is some haziness connected with the Bulgy the Whale post that I just wrote. In a post written by Bill Edward's daughter who apparently owned Peralta Playland when it closed. She claims Bill opened the park in 1965, but by then the park was in full operation. I think that possibly he purchased the park and brought some rides over to it from King Norman's Wonderland. This may have included Bulgy the Whale but that is not clear. What is clear is that Bill, after closing Peralta Playland, brought the rides over to Concord and opened Pixie Playland, which was around for many years.

Here is a quote from his daughter, Lisa. In it she mentions the Bulgy the Whale ride:
"To clarify the dates, times and all, my Dad worked for King Norman at his toy store in San Francisco in the 50’s. Once Norman purchased the rides, he and my Dad sat in his dining room where Dad began drawing up plans for what would become King Norman’s Wonderland. It opened in ParkNShop in October of 1955. Dad left the toy store and worked there from day one until Norman sold it in 1960. It was purchased by Alan Rosenfield who ran it one year then he closed it down.
My Dad went onto purchase some of the rides from Ted Rhodes who owned the shopping center and in 1965 opened Peralta Kiddieland in Oakland right across the street from the Oakland Auditorium. He closed it in 1968.
My Dad opened Pixie Playland in Concord (Willow Pass Park) in 1969 and for 20 years after delighted kids of all ages with the rides, and cotton candy…snocones and pink popcorn…just to name a few.
Once Dad decided it was time to move onto other things in 1989, Pixie Playland was auctioned off. Many of the rides being purchased by the City of Concord…with the Bulgy The Whale ride finding a new home with the City of Pittsburg. It was a sad day when it ended…and there will never be anything like it.
Yes there is a Pixieland Park that I believe still has the original merry-go-round and train…and I’m not here to bash it or what it has become…but the quaintness…the simpler time…and the magic that was Pixie Playland, to me, ended on that day in 1989.
It’s legacy is the joy it brought to so many for so long…
Thanks again to those who have posted their memories and kind words."