Monday, July 22, 2013

Knott's Berry Farm

What stuck with me the most about my first visit to Disneyland in 2011 were all the big, shady trees.  It felt like half-arboretum, half-theme park, in the best possible way: an old-growth oasis in the middle of the endless, gray sprawl of LA.  Not only did the big trees provide relief from the sun, help with sightlines and add to the beauty of the vistas, but they made everything feel more authentic, genuine, timeless.  DL’s berm was thickly wooded when I visited, and it wasn’t hard to imagine being in the virgin American frontier or exotic jungles of South Asia.   The experience hammered home how important the “park” part of “theme park” is for me. 

I only had cursory knowledge of Knott’s Berry Farm until I read Imagineer Chris Merritt’s “Knott’s Preserved” (highly recommend it), which is loaded with historic photos, maps, concept art and a detailed written history of park.  An IdealBuildout version of this park was challenging for me to master-plan because KBF wasn’t planned as a theme park from the outset, but grew from a roadside farm stand, to a popular restaurant with some novelties, to a replica ghost town, to a theme park, and then, in the past few decades, to a Cedar Fair/Six Flags-style thrill park awash in coaster steel (with some residual areas of transportative place-making).

While I know there is an audience and place for that style of park, my plan for Knotts (a) focused on its history and original spirit by resurrecting and updating its more unique sights and attractions; and (b) made it a more park-like setting, rather than a visual cacophony of track, tower and pylon.  This meant removing every naked steel coaster and skytower from the park and adding berms and green areas to account for sightlines.  My goal was to create a compelling Sense of Place in each of the lands, to minimize reminders to the visitor that they are in an amusement park, and do more to sell the illusion that the visitor has stumbled upon an Old Western town, a colonial Mexican village, an overgrown Mayan capital, etc.   I have this idea that if a theme park is well-planned to be timeless, executed at the highest level and impeccably maintained, it reduces the capital-intensive need to constantly update/re-imagine areas with newer, bigger rides.

Meeting the above goals with the current KBF required major reconstructive surgery.  The first thing I did was bury HWY 39 that cuts through the middle of the property.   Large parking structures take up the lower right (in this view) portion of the property, with underground access ramps from the new HWY 39 tunnel.  The opposite corner of the park (upper left) is where employee parking and Back of House logistical areas are located.


The new front area of the park pays tribute to the history of the Park and the Walter Knott Family, featuring re-located or rebuilt features like Mrs. Knott’s (Chicken Dinner) Restaurant.  Right after the ticket gates would be a Roadside Berry Stand.   I created a new lake (with a larger scale Cornelia K. sidewheeler traversing it) that would give a pastoral frame to the chapel and church and the one-room school house.  Since ‘Farm’ is in the park’s title, I added a Knott Family farmhouse and barn and some actual boysenberry fields.

The exact replica of Independence Hall was a passion project for Walter Knott, reflecting his love of history and Country.  It is a landmark building and ought to be KBF’s “castle”.  So I picked it up and moved it to the center of the new park, with a main street leading to it from the gate. 

The Calico-Ghost Town Railroad now encircles the park via a planted berm, providing the feel of traveling through wilderness (and city) and serving as transportation to the four corners of the park (stops at the themed resort hotel, Whitewater Wilderness, Fiesta Village and Reflection Lake).

The Ghost Town has always been the heart of the park.  A new, expanded open pit Gold Mine (reached via a longer tunnel) is where visitors can explore and take home a vial of gold they’ve panned themselves.  The dusty hills around the mine are traversed by live burro trains.   The old Haunted Shack returns as a large, cutting-edge E-ticket darkride (the queue winds up Boot Hill), a signature ride for a park famous for its Halloween overlay.  Since Timber Mountain is a logging operation, it is now surrounded by stands of ponderosa pine, rather than steel coaster tracks.  The Birdcage Theater is re-built across from Timber Mtn., this time a full replica of the Tombstone original.  The stagecoach ride is re-routed and all the sights passed by would not be out-of-place during the time this type of transportation was in use (e.g., Colonial Philadelphia, Colonial Mexico).  Of course, all the unique live characters and events (shoot outs, train hold-ups, etc.) are part of the experience.

The existing hotel is demolished in favor of a highly-themed Calico Springs Hotel that has direct park access via foot and train and supports the theme park both visually and story-wise.

Two of the main attractions of this area are intact (Bigfoot Rapids and the Spirit Lodge), but berms, trees and additional rockwork are put in to insulate the area from visual intrusions and evoke the feeling of the being in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.  I added a showscene cavern to the raft ride where perhaps an AA Sasquatch could lie in wait.   A new version of the Indian Trails and dance circle from Ghost Town are put in here, taking up and foresting land currently used by the Pony Express.  Finally, I added a Mack Twist n Splash themed to NorthWoods fur trappers.

This land takes on a more urban feel than it had in the past, based on Jazz Age buildings of New York, Chicago and San Fran.  The railroad passes through a Century City (early 20th) diorama.   The original Cable Cars run up and down the street.  A neoclassic natural history museum fa├žade houses a new version of the 'Kingdom of the Dinosaurs' darkride.   The boulevard opens up from the main drag to a Sunday Drive area where two old attractions, Motor Cycle Chase (coaster) and Gasoline Alley are given new life.

This quiet area is a romanticized Mexican/Spanish Colonial village, focusing on ambiance over intense rides.  An outdoor family boat ride (Storybook Canal Boats meets El Rio del Tiempo) adds a lot of greenery to the area and returns a waterside feel.  The train station is on the second level of one of the courted fountain plazas and there is an indoor Mexican puppet theater.  The four low flat rides are attractively detailed (see above pic of Happy Sombreros) and blend into the landscape so as to compliment the environment versus overwhelm it.

The idea here is to expand on the original Adirondack/National Park-style theme-ing (waterfalls, stream, caves, lodge) of the original Camp Snoopy, but remove all references to the Peanuts comic strip and replace it with a set of original characters first invented for the extinct Knotts Bear-y Tales darkride.   I like the idea of theme parks as creative origin points.  The main attraction is a new Hunny Hunt-scale Bear-y Tales adventure, marked by a large tree where the main family dwells.  There is also a bumper boats attraction, a balloon spinner, a challenge course and several flatrides.


Maybe as a nod the removed Jaguar coaster, or to further the park's connections to Mexico/Pre-Columbia civilizations, I gave a Mayan Jungle Ruins overlay to the separate admission water park.  The ruined temples serve as supports for the slides, indoor, themed stairways and add elements of darkness to a number of the experiences.  Entering the park via a crumbling gate, visitors pass a long, water-spewing carved stelae colonnade before reaching the central area marked by the Mayan “tree of life”, from which kids slides flow.  The lazy river floats through caverns and a misty jungle.