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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Knott's Berry Farm 1958

Knott's Berry Farm 1958

Was reading an article by Steve Martin the actor/comedian in the New Yorker the other day and he mentioned that he'd started his career in show business at Knott's Berry Farm in the 60s. Wandering through some old family slides and, lo and behold, here's a shot from 1958. Predates Martin a bit, but I'm guessing it looked pretty similar. Oh, and that's my family on the right.

Photographer: Don Hall Sr.

Don Hall
Yreka, CA
View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Old Church Chapel

My mother worked in the Chicken House around 1959-1960. I remember as a little girl going to a little Church Chapel with big doors that opened and you would go in and sit down and see and hear a story about Jesus. Does anyone know if that little church is still there? I also remember feeding the seals after Momma got off work.

The Good Old Days

In 1968 the fence went up around Knotts Berry Farm. I remember because I was ten but my best times there were when it was still an open park. It had been an open park dating back to when it was not much more than a berry farm and berry stand on the side of the road in the 1920's. They served boysenberry pie, that was the only berries they grew or sold. No one else grew or sold boysenberries so it was quite unique and soon the crowds came. By my time it had already grown into a successful theme park many years earlier. But I do remember the days in the 1960's when Steve Martin not only played at the Bird Cage Theater but would walk to the stunt man show and do their crowd warm-up. He would joke around while people came in to find seats in the covered wagons that surrounded the stage and then joke around a little with the stunt men at the beginning of the show. He wore a giant funny cowboy hat, like they do at football games now, and I remember him being the funniest guy I've ever seen. So I've literally been a fan of Mr. Martin from the beginning.

As far as Knotts Berry Farm goes, there were nice tree covered parking lawns on three sides and you could enter the park from all sides. The front entrance was the most popular because that's where the restaurants and shops were (and still are). They also used to have a San Francisco style cable car (on a track) that ran to the front parking area and dropped you off right in the center of the park between the train depot and stage depot. You bought attraction tickets at various ticket booths just like you would at a neighborhood carnival and they were just a little smaller than a DO NOT DISTURB sign for a hotel, like train tickets, so the ride operator could punch it and it became a souvenir. They were used for the train, stage, calico coal mine ride, haunted shack, mule ride, and various old-style amusement park rides.

There was also Old MacDonald's Farm with a petting zoo and a chicken that would play the piano if you dropped a nickel in a slot to release feed on the keys. There was an organ grinder with a monkey who would untie your shoes and take your dime, and a goat that always seemed to be standing on the peak of the barn roof.

Free attractions included lots of historic structures including the original Knotts Berry stand, a real country church with steeple that held the only regular services within an amusement or theme park (also weddings), a small chapel created by a local artist that showed the transformation of Christ via a wall to ceiling stained glass and special effects lighting and music. Lots of little narrated shows like a 3D panorama showing Mrs. Knott's grandmother crossing the desert in a covered wagon and begging for water. It was only six minutes long but after the little girl cried "mommy, can I please have a drink of water" and her mother replying "I'm sorry we have to save it for the horses, try to get some sleep now" there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Models of all the missions in California were depicted in scenes along a covered walkway, I doubt any kid would stop to look at those today. There were shootouts to watch and you could get your picture taken with saloon girls or the Indian chief (who would lend you a feathered headress), you could watch the blacksmith make a horseshoe, pan for gold (you would get to keep the gold dust in a little bottle), watch a corpse rise from the undertakers carriage, walk around boot hill, and talk to Sad Eye Joe in his jail cell who despite being just a stuffed dummy, spoke to you and always knew your name and everything else about you (he's been there since 1940 but if your parents aren't there talking to his partner around the corner he might not remember your name). Some of that still exists, but basically its just Knotts in name only, quite a different park exists there now and much of what I described torn down or slated to be torn down.

The jellies are now owned by Smuckers and the park by Cedar Fair who's opinion is if its not a fast ride, bulldoze it down, historical who cares. The old church which looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting is being destroyed because they don't want the expense to move it. The old chapel was torn down and the artwork (smashed?). Founder Walter Knott was such a lover of American history he built a replica of Independence Hall in the 1970's including the Liberty Bell and a tour that recreates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Cedar Fair decided to keep it because it was so accurate Hollywood uses it for movies (National Treasure, for example) and it pays for itself that way.

I remember learning a lot about history at Knotts Berry Farm and what it was like to live a hundred years in the past. I learned it was all about the various people who were each distinct characters in the town. Now its just about indistinct roller coasters with indistinct roller coaster operators and indistinct roller coaster riders having indistinct roller coaster experiences that will last as long as it takes to run to the next roller coaster.

Russ Wildey, my dad.

Russ also played piano at Disneyland, Shakeys, and the Gaslite Lounge in the 1950s & 60s. Born in 1900, he was most famous in the 1920s. He and his partner Bill Sheehan were known as the Ray-O-Vac Twins. They worked for RKO Radio making appearances across the country and playing live broadcasts. Bill sang while Dad played the piano. Their sheet music is still sold online. It's fun to see his picture on the covers, looking so young. Dad passed away in 1964, I was 13.

Train robbers.

My sister and I went on a road trip with our grandmother and her sister from S.F. Bay Area down to see Disneyland around 1958. That was one long trip in those days. Disneyland was great of course, but I really liked Knott's Berry Farm. I was 5 years old, and cowboys were a big deal for kids my age. It really felt like I was back in the frontier days.

So we decide to take the train ride, and everything was really neat. The all of a sudden, these two guys in masks kick in the door to the train car we were on and shoot off their guns and yell out that this is a robbery.

Well nobody told me that these guys weren't actual train robbers, and I was scared out of my mind. All could think off was, "Please don't kill my Nana." The panning for gold was also a big hit with me. I'm pretty sure I still have the little tube with gold in it stashed somewhere.

Married to a Wagonmaster!

Hey email me...I'm married to Harvey Walker, back row, far right. I can tell you where you can get all the albums, now in CD form. Thanks for remembering them. Rachel has passed away, as well as Bobby (back row, far left. KC@KCDOUGLAS.COM

Knott's Berry Farm

In the 1960s I would visit almost every day to listen to the Wagon Masters, the beginning of my love affair with folk music. I have been looking for their records (LP'S or any format). To my surprise on one of my visits back to KBF, the present employees of the park do not know The Wagon Masters.

[You should look on eBay. The group's name is the Wagonmasters -- one word. Currently there are eight Wagonmasters albums for sale. Click here. - Dave]

50 Years of visiting Knott's

My family moved to the area in 1958. We started visiting KBF on a regular basis. It was all free then and we enjoyed walking around the ghost town. My brother & I usually ended up chasing the chickens around in the parking lot. Years later I "donated" two roosters, Charlie & Oscar, to their collection as we couldn't keep them at home anymore. A girlfriend's father, Russ Wildey, was one of the piano players in the old saloon in the early & mid 60's. I had an older female cousin who was dating one of the train robbers at that time. KBF was a lot of fun for us kids then. Actually I liked it a lot more before they fenced it in, but understand why it was necessary. I now take my grandkids there and love seeing them having their own fun.

Knotts Berry Farm

I worked at Knotts on and off from 1956 thru 1960. It was all open when I worked there, but we had to move because my daughter, who was 2 years old, was allergic to the smog, and the doctors said she could lose her eyesight if we stayed there. I believe the fences went up and admission charged in the late 60's, because you could have picnics anywhere on the grounds, but no alcohol was allowed on the place when I worked there. People started drinking, leaving beer bottles on the lawns in the picnic areas, and abusing the Knotts family generosity. The Knott family treated their employees as family. I loved working there.. My whole family worked there. My dad Ed Kingsley was foreman of the stage line, my brother Eddie drove covered wagon, my mom Sibyl and sister Rita ran the burro ride. My brothers Dick and Treat robbed the stagecoach and covered wagons.

What fun memories, summers, by the time we got off work it was usually about 11 PM... Often all the cowboys from the stage line, the Indians and the girls from the Grill would head for Huntington Beach and build a big bonfire, roast hot dogs and marshmallows and body surf by moonlight. What wonderful memories I have of those days.. Or all of us heading to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl parade. Dad and his boss Bill Higdon driving stage, all heading to my aunt's afterward for waffles. I remember Bill Hidgon had long white hair and beard and always wore a red long sleeved shirt. My little cousins thought he was Santa Claus. I would love to step back in those times once more.

Walter Knott's Place

I went there during the 40's and 50's, when I lived in Manhattan Beach. There was no central admission point, you simply wandered from building to building. I believe the owners also owned Calico, a "ghost town" out in the desert.


Knott's Berry Farm

In the 1960's the hippies started hanging out and sleeping in the trees and such. Fences were put up and then admission became the way of things. Before that the place was wide open. Some of the employees refer to those days as BH, for before hippies. I grew up near there and most folks in the area had very fond memories of the place. It is owned by big business now and just not the same.

Knott's Berry Farm

Sadly, I can't remember Knott's Berry Farm, but I know I went to it and Disneyland when I was about 2-3 when we lived in Redondo Beach, Ca. in the early to mid 60's. But my mom loved it and often talked about it.
In GOD I trust, JOY

Thanks for posting this

As a wee lad in the 1963-65 timeframe I went to both Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland. Mouseville was much more entertaining, and all the photos and film clips set at Disneyland have reinforced my memories of that place.

But . . . why so little media attention to the Berry Farm? About all I remember of visiting there was learning they made jams and jellies.

Looks like a place I'd enjoy a lot more as an adult.

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