Side by Side

The first time Chris and I went to Disneyland, he was very excited. I enjoyed it, and yet I had to ask “Is it art?”

I’ve written about Disneyland before, and that conversation before. Where art is and is not depends on the eye of the beholder. I’ve since expanded my view of art.

There is another side to the amusement park that’s hard to ignore: It’s expensive. It is commercial art, if it’s art.

Yesterday the family and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm. That amusement park is super close to Disneyland in Anaheim, but it was first.

While the highway system of America was being developed a whole category of Roadside Attractions sprung up with it. Back before cars had air-conditioning or other comforts, it was very important to have a place to stop and recharge on a car trip.

When my family lived in Humboldt County I loved to keep an eye out for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as we travelled through the redwoods.

And getting from the San Francisco Bay area to Hwy 5 took me past the delightful Casa De Fruta a true roadside attraction. I heard it was so popular a roadside attraction that they actually moved the road to give it it’s own exit and keep traffic flowing.

That’s how Knott’s Berry Farm started. It was a chicken dinner restaurant run by Mrs. Knott, and people came from miles around to eat there. The wait times could stretch for hours. So Mr. Knott started building rides to keep the customers amused. It grew organically, naturally.

Walter Knott was interested in history. His amusement park had and still has a western museum, a ghost town and slightly outside the park he build a full replica of Independence Hall.

That’s what mattered to him. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to ask if Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park was art. The founder made it about history and then even he became part of its history after he died.

Chris and I wondered about this very American park, and what might happen to it in the future. How long will the vision of Walter Knott linger in it? I’m sure his children think it’s changed a lot, but for me, the first time visitor, it feels drenched in history.

Walt Disney made his park non-organically. He had a vision and made it the way he wanted it to be. Also, he started out as an artist. He did make the cartoon animations of Mickey Mouse at the very start of his career. So it’s natural to wonder what he was trying to convey with Disneyland, and if his creation has achieved what he wanted.

Disney wanted a wholesome place for adults and children to play, so he made Disneyland. There is a long and continuing history of sketchy and unsavory amusement parks. Other parks in this area have that reputation.

Knott’s Berry Farm, though, doesn’t. It’s clean, homey and safe. Mr. Knott set the tone, he kept the standards high and the visitors respected it.

How interesting that these two similar parks came to be in their unique way.

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