My Beach Boulevard Hwy 39 “memory” journey has taken us from the sands of Huntington Beach through Westminster and Garden Grove. We have only traveled 10 miles north and experienced a myriad of ethic, cultural and tasty pleasures.
Now just another 7 miles and we arrive in Buena Park, population 80,000. All of this land was deeded form the King of Spain to one of his loyal soldiers, Manuel Nieto, who helped lead the Portola Expeditions. The huge adobe ranch house and headquarters sat in present day Buena Park. When it became American land after the Mexican war, there were many small farms growing grapes, oranges and berries.
This was the spot, on Hwy 39, in 1920, where a farmer had a roadside stand selling his berries. The farmer was Walter Knott. Walter was a friend of another berry farmer in Anaheim by the name of Rudy Boysen. One day in 1932 Rudy Boysen gave Walter his last 6 wilted hybrid-berry plants. Rudy had tried to combine a blackberry, a red raspberry and a loganberry. Rudy gave up. Walter planted these six wilted plants and cultivated them and thought they were might tasty. His family started selling them alongside his other berries at the roadside stand. When people asked him what these delicious berries were, Walter told them they were Boysenberries.
Times got even rougher during the depression and Walter asked his wife, Cordelia, to cook some of her scrumptious fried chicken so he could add that to the offerings of their meager roadside stand. As the word spread of the delicious chicken and tasty Boysenberry pie, Walter put a roof on the place and added lots of seating room.
Before freeways, the people from Los Angeles would drive down to Hwy 39 and head south to the ocean at Huntington Beach. Walter and Cordelia’s place became a necessary stop on this two hour journey. Walter named the place, Mrs. Knott’s CHICKEN DINNER Restaurant. Soon there were long lines waiting on Cordelia’s chicken dinners, so Walter devised some activities to keep the folks busy and spending more money. He put in a wishing well, a rock garden, a man-made volcano, waterfalls, and a gift shop selling the homemade jams and jellies. Business tripled.
During this time of the 30s and early 40s, the big movie hits of the day were Westerns. Walter noticed how the moviemakers could make a Western theme by pouring concrete over chicken wire and shaping it into rocks, mountains, waterfalls, or anything you wanted. Walter built a Ghost Town out of this substance called “shotcrete”, right next door to the Chicken Restaurant. Business tripled again. Throughout the Ghost Town were humorous displays including a prospector dancing with a can-can girl, a guy lifting weights, a couple sitting in a covered wagon pulled by oxen; these
displays all had holes for faces so folks could stick their heads in the displays and buy a photo. A large sign to entice people to pose stated, “You’ll never know how good you look, until ya gits yer pitchur took.
Soon, he added a working blacksmith shop selling souvenir horseshoes, a livery stable with a collection of rare wagons and coaches, and a music hall with rare musical instruments including an early version of whistling mechanical automated birds. These birds were an early inspiration to Walt Disney to create audio-animatronics.
The name of the place was changed to Knott’s Berry Farm Amusement park and the rest is history. When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1956, just a few miles away, this area became a hotbed of tourists from all over the world. Walter added hundreds of new attractions from large live music venues to giant roller coasters.
Cordelia died in the early 70s and Walter passed on in the early 80s. Their kids ran the place for another 14 years or so. Walt Disney tried to buy Knott’s Berry Farm for years. It was feared that Disney would tear down a lot of the original themed sites that Walter Knott’s kids wanted left as a tribute to their pop. They sold the jams and jellies industry to ConAgra who pedaled it off to Smuckers who still market the Knotts’ brand today. The Knott’s kids sold the amusement park to Cedar Fair. Cedar Fair ended up tearing down far more of the original Walter Knott themed sites than Disney had in mind.
When a present day tourist leaves Knott’s Berry Farm Amusement Park, he then passes dozens more tourist attractions including Medieval Times, California Alligator Farm, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and a recently closed Movieland Wax Museum.
I have many memories from Knotts, and most are knotts so good. The one wonderful memory was the fun times spent with the great Waikiki band, SOS. They used to do a May performance when they came from Hawaii to do their annual spring shows in Reno. The two knotts so good memories are 1) almost losing my cookies on the Parachute Drop and 2) almost losing my cookies on the backwards upside down roller coaster.
I’m ready to turn around and drive 17 miles back to the beach.