Funtopia pt. 1

The sky a stratospheric blue, the steel painted in immaculate white, blood-red spots whirring like lipstick across the pictures. You almost need sunglasses just wacthing those photos.

My obesession for everything "rollercoaster" was fed by these pictures of the Great America Amusement Park in Santa Clara, CA and Magic Mountain near L.A.

Before the first transportable Looping-coaster would appear on a German funfair in 1978, I was aware of the gigantic rides that were being built in the USA due to these pictures that appeared in various magazines.
It felt so strange, knowing that most of the rides were designed and constructed in Germany and then shipped to those magical funparks under the californian sun. Riding them was just a distant dream for a ten year old at that time.

I really think that those pictures along with films and pictures of skateboading teens in empty swimming-pools played a big part in shaping my image and fascination with America.

In the mid-seventies the Marriott Hotel corporation decided to jump into the amusement park business by comissioning three nearly identical amusement parks for California, Illinois and Washington.

After the amusement park business was suffering during the fifties and sixties, the interest in organized fun seemed to grow again in the early seventies.

Disneyland - against all odds - proved to be a gigantic success and the Disney corporation had just opened its second outlet in Florida.

The Six Flags corporation was building modern amusement parks, successfully trying to find a balance between themed attractions and thrills.
The amusement hardware was taking quantum leaps with the invention of the steel-tracked looping rollercoaster and people would line up for hours for a one minute trip on the latest steel monster.
Suddenly, it seemed profitable again to invest in the amsuement business.

Marriott comissioned Randall Duell and Associates, who had already planned Houston´s Astroworld, to design the new parks.

The architecture and infrastructure of Duells parks were more akin to EXPO buildings than to the immersive alternative reality of Disney.

The Six Flags- and the Great America Parks were clean, modern versions of the traditional American amusement parks of old. They were clearly structured and used functional architecture instead of tacky cardboard structures.
Of course these corporate parks had tight security and there was nothing shrill or sleazy about them. One could say, they were a bit boring.

The planned third park for Washington was never build due to objections of the city.
In 1981 the two identical parks began to grow in different ways and by 1983/84 Marriott had decided that amusement parks were not in their best interest anymore and sold the parks.

The park near Chicago was now Six Flags Great America and it would see radical changes during the following years. Going with Six Flags ambition to become the worlds premier provider of thrill-rides, the park would receive new, spectacular rollercoasters on a regular basis.

The Californian park was purchased by Paramount, who - after Universal - thought that owning a theme park chain was the way to go for a film studio.
While Sillicon Valley began to grow around the park, new coasters were only added sporadically. Somehow Paramount couldn´t decide if they were going to cater to thrillseekers or to families.

Meanwhile Paramount sold their theme parks to Cedar Fair and the Santa Clara park is now called California´s Great America. Sadly, its future is a bit uncertain for various reasons.
Houston´s Astroworld was finally closed and demolished in 2005.

After its renaissance during the late 20th century, amusement parks have become an unstable business again. While the individual business turned into a corporate machine with movie tie-ins and franchises. Whole park chains are now bought and sold by private equity firms on a yearly basis.
While these days many parks are endangered or have already been closed, hundreds of new parks are currently being build in Dubai, China and South Korea.

Tons of wonderful, vintage photos which show the two Great America Parks in their early prime can be seen at Great America Parks. For lots of old and recent pictures of Astroworld, go to Six Flags Houston.

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