Sunday, December 21, 2008

Worlds of Fun Construction

Construction of Worlds of Fun has always been an interest to me. Several years ago (1999) I even wrote an brief editorial outlining the parks construction. It is still online here. The Beginning... Construction of Worlds of Fun

However, talking about something and actually seeing something have always been two very different things. Of course for years I had to be content with bad double copies from Kansas City Star & Times (remember that!) articles. I was happily surprised a few months ago when Brandon Stanley at Worlds of Fun allowed us to borrow several of the photos from Worlds of Fun construction. About two months ago we took a look at some of the conception art.

Now its time to actually look at the actual heavy lifting.

First though a little history. The era of the 1970's saw an unprecedented growth in the number of amusement parks and theme parks. Six Flags St. Louis in nearby Eureka, MO opened in 1972. A few years earlier, June 1969 in fact, across the state in Kansas City designs were unveiled for another park, and international themed park, in wooded and hilly Clay County. Just like today though the dragging economy slowed progress down, and it wasn't until 1971 that clear progress began to be visible.

The design of the park was left to Hollywood (MGM Studios) Art Director turned theme park designer Randall Duell who at the time had already done design work for Six Flags over Texas, Astroworld and Magic Mountain. With a 20.5 million budget, the name Worlds of Fun was chosen to convey the excitement found in a international themed environment, one in which even in 1971 the five themed worlds of American, European, Scandinavian and Oriental were already in place.

Worlds of Fun was to be but Phase-1 of a larger entertainment complex that would span the entire 500 original acres. As time would show the later plans Hunt Midwest had for planned motels, restaurants and commercial facilities (for visitors) never made it off the drawing table. A story line that would play out at other parks conceived during the same time frame.

Many things would change from original design to actual park, but one aspect hasn't changed through the years, and that is the natural beauty of the site chosen, even Jack Steadman commented that "Worlds of Fun will be designed to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the heavily wooded park site"

Site Preparation began in early 1971 with grading, drainage and electrical work being completed by Amino Brothers Construction with engineering done by Burnes & McDonnell. Vertical construction began slightly over a year later in May 1972 with the signing of JE Dunn for general construction of the 140 acre park. The first buildings that rose though were not in the park proper but instead were the two olive colored administrative buildings still in use today.

In less the a years time, over 60 different buildings, 20 rides, encomposing 22 box cars of lumber, 3 miles of plumbing, 2 1/2 acres of roofing materials, and 35 miles of electric wiring would be combined to open the park on May 26, 1973, slightly behind its original scheduled opening in April.

By Nov 1972, three parking lots, capable of holding 5,000 cars were complete, Henrietta's foundation was poured, and Westport Landing, the lake that would hold the Cotton Blossom, and today's Ripcord attraction was just being completed. Market Square, in 1973 home to Yum Yum tree, Front Street Dry Goods and Electric Company, a hat shop and Vittle Griddle were all taking shape. The Six wooden trestles, specifically designed for their rustic and authentic appearance were also in place.

With the prototype Flying Dutchman on the literal boat from Switzerland, the cold winter was blowing in, and would eventually cause the opening day delay. Curbs, sidewalks and rides aside, the landscaping always an important aspect from the very beginning was beginning to see its own problems. In February 1972 the park was a quagmire of mud, creating by the record ice storm that hit in the preceding January, and that penetrated the ground up to 21 inches deep. The crews of landscaper Kenneth Burrow persevered with jack hammers, to plant the trees we see today.

Weather certainly wasn't pristine in February and things didn't look any better on Worlds of Fun's grand opening on May 26th, rain and mist filled the air throughout the day. The opening ceremonies started at 9:30AM, and was marked by a grand opening parade led by Worlds of Fun Ambassadors, Taxi Cars and Safari Cars carrying dignitaries, as well as an official christening of the SS Henrietta at the park's entrance, a balloon release and airplane flyover. Exactly 11,072 were there that day to experience the festivities, attractions and rides for the very first time. Over the preceding years history would be made, possibly not the kind that Lamar Hunt and Jack Steadman had envisioned (after all it was estimated 1.9 million in attendance by the 10th year, something that never happened), but history that is still remembered with fond memories by those that lived it. This was only the beginning.

The perfect place to start, a park painter puts the finishing touches on Worlds of Fun's original logo. The single line "Worlds of Fun" logo would remain exactly the same until 1997.

Don't you recognize the park entrance? This IS the main gate, or what will become the main gate atleast. to the left is the keel for the Henrietta. This photo was most likely taken around Nov, 1972.

A bridge, but which one? Near our newest ride for 2009 Prowler, this is the Congo Clearing bridge, today we would be looking at the Congo Clearing restaurant on the other side. Zulu would be just behind us.

Often overlooked for Worlds of Fun's more heralded 1st coaster, Zambezi Zinger, Schussboomer also opened with the park in 1973. Though there are rumors that Schussboomer was bought used (they have never been substantiated) it is a fact that it came from the same place as its big brother, West Germany from the then popular roller coaster designer Anton Schwartzkopf.

For those younger readers, its a great example of how history is one large interconnected web in that articles referring to Anton Schwartzkopf and his factory list its location at West Germany. At that time, and until the early 1990's Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall into East Socialist Germany and West Capitalist Germany. The end of the Cold War between the Eastern USSR powers (now Russia) and the western world saw the downfall of the Berlin Wall and saw the end of West Germany and East Germany.

September 1972, track is unloaded for the Schussboomer roller coaster. Schussboomer would later become Worlds of Fun's first operating ride.

Schussboomer is taking shape in the Scandinavian section of the park. Schussboomer was a Wildcat model coaster, very similar to Galaxi and Zyklon coasters. Schussboomer was removed at the end of the 1985 season and scapped for steel. Today the Festaus Picnic pavilion is located were Schussboomer was located.

A gathering in Scandinavia. In the front you can see Jack Steadman. In the background is the Copenhagen shop (Girls Only or otherwise the shop that changes names every year). In the far background you can see the Scandinavian station for the Ski Heis cable car ride. Today that same station is the picnic area known as Tivoli East.

Lots of things happening here! The barn on the left side is the red barn in Americana today, it was the Sky Hi station when the park opened. In the middle, with the straight line of concrete, is the train depot under construction, just to the north of that, the structure that looks almost like a coaster? Its not, thats Cotton Blossom going up!

The Aquatic Arena, home to Fins and Flippers Dolphin show until 1996. Today the pool is the Spinning Dragons fountain.

Last Photo, the Scandi/Orient (SO) Bridge. To the left you can see Viking Voyager (view really hasn't changed much!). If you blow the photo up in the background you can see the Orient section with the original Bradford Pears (they were removed with Orient Express), and Oriental Octopus station (now Bamboozler). In the far background the wheel house of the Cotton Blossom is visible peaking out from the trees.


Anonymous said...

The pictures actually made me shed a tear!

I really wish I could have been alive for the construction of Worlds of Fun.

So much of my life and time is devoted to the study of this park and I wasn't even around to see it in it's hay-day. . . .

I think that WoF can be renewed and brought back to it's original standards, though!

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