While doing HALS research is a serious and important endeavor, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. Hopefully, you’ve figured that out if you’ve read any of my postings. There are few sites more fun than Children’s Fairyland in Oakland’s Lakeside Park. Fairyland was the first storybook theme park in the United States, and one of the main inspirations for the development of Walt Disney’s Disneyland amusement park.
Children’s Fairyland is the first amusement theme park created to cater to families with young children. The park’s ten acres include small rides, play sets, and animals. It is home to the Open Storybook Puppet Theater, one of the oldest continuously operating puppet theaters in the United States.
Fairyland was researched by Jennifer Liw of PGAdesign and when her submission was presented to the Northern California chapter of HALS, the group was so enthused they got the idea to issue a challenge to the rest of the nation to submit HALS inventory forms for theme parks in their state. Submissions will be displayed at this year’s American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) annual conference in Washington DC. Anyone can participate. For more information visit the group’s website at: www://HALSca.org
While visiting the Detroit Children’s Zoo, Arthur E. Navlet, founder of Navlet’s Garden Centers saw a group of nursery rhyme themed buildings, and was inspired to create large sets for children in Lakeside Park. He presented the idea to the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club and William Penn Mott, Jr., then the director of Oakland’s Parks Department, and later director of the National Park Service. Navlet and the Breakfast Club raised $50,000 to create the park. They hired William Russell Everett, a fantasy architect to design the sets. Initially, Everett presented 17 original models with straight-sided buildings of gingerbread and candy, which he later gladly destroyed, after learning the buildings were too reserved. He created new sets featuring buildings with no straight sides decorated with bright and unusual colors and textures.
The park opened on September 2, 1950. The park’s entrance, the shoe from The Old Woman in the Shoe nursery rhyme, was sized for children; adults needed to bend over to get through. The original sets of the park included Pinocchio’s Castle, Thumbelina, Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Merry Miller, The Three Little Pigs, and Willie the Whale, in addition to the Old Woman and the Shoe.
Over the years, the park has added features including The Open Storybook Puppet Theater in 1956 and the Fairyland Talking Storybooks with Magic Keys. Today Aladdin’s Genie overlooks the park entrance along with The Woman In The Shoe. The ticket booth is guarded by fairies floating in a domed ceiling. Once inside The Man on a Flying Carpet flies overhead, Mother glides on her goose in the top of a live oak tree, while the tail of a brightly painted dragon coils around the base of the oak. A giant toadstool offers shade opposite a drinks stand housed inside Cinderella's pumpkin. Willie The Whale still invites guests into his belly as does the White Rabbit to venture down the hole from Alice In Wonderland.
There are 3 separate stages for live performances and guests can reserve a party area with a Cinderella theme that includes a slide built into her slipper. The Three Men in the Tub have not sunk at the Merry Miller, and Alice and her Seven dwarfs still greet visitors. Miss Muffet is still frightened by a spider. River Rat's house is tucked under a tree and even the boys and girls restrooms are decorated with fanciful entries. Children climb up to an elevated pagoda where they view over the tree tops to the park and city beyond, and they can also climb the mast of a pirate’s ship laden with trunks of treasure. The Crocked Man's House is still standing lopsided as ever. A fanciful train - The Jolly Trolly, a merry-go-round, and snack counters have been added. The park includes a small petting zoo near a little red schoolhouse. Children’s Fairyland continues as a popular family attraction drawing visitors to more than 50 exhibits.
To visit Fairyland you must be accompanied by a child, so get your kids, grandkids or family friends and be prepared to be enchanted in this fanciful cultural landscape.