Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vintage Postcards - Six Flags Great America

Can you believe that this is the 25th installment of Ken Martinez sharing his collection of vintage amusement park postcards? Wow! I am very appreciative of all of his time and effort, and I'm sure all of you are too. Today, Ken presents:

Marriott's Great America

The Marriott Corporation oopened up two theme parks almost simultaneously in 1976, just in time for the nation's bicentennial in both the San Francisco ZBay area and the Greater Chicago area. Originally three identical theme parks were planned, with the third park in Maryland, serving the DC area. While both started out nearly identical, they developed very differently as owners took over. The original themes of both parks were Carousel Plaza, Hometown Square, Midwest County Fair, Yukon Territory, Yankee Harbor, and Orleans Place. While the Gurnee, Illinois Park was surrounded by green tree-filled terrain, the Santa Clara park was built in the brown barren flat land just south of the San Francisco Bay. Today, the California park is owned by Cedar Fair and the Illinois park is owned by Six Flags.

The Columbia Carousel is a double-decker merry-go-round located at the entrance to the park, where it sits at the end of a reflective pool. Along with the Sky Whirl it gave the park a sense of grandness. I really loved this park (Santa Clara) as it's one of the few I actually visited very close to opening day and went constantly until the Marriott Corporation sold it. I consider Great America along with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk home parks. The Columbia Carousel featured here was in Santa Clara, California.

The Sky Whirl was a Triple-Tree Ferris Wheel Intamin creation. Atop the 115 foot pylon sat a tree-like arrangement of three massive arms each holding a wheel with 12 passenger gondolas. While the wheels rotated, so would the entire tree rotate on the pylon to allow for a continuous load cycle. The tree would tilt to lower a wheel flat to the ground and load guests, then lift back up and rotate clockwise, then tilt again to lower the next wheel flat to the ground for the next group of guests. This cycle would continue all day long thus allowing two wheels to operate while one was loading. The entire ride lasted 17 minutes and offered great views of the park. This was one of my favorite attractions at the park because it looked so greand towering over the park. The ride also had a unique motor sound which could be heard around the park. The Sky Whirl featured here was in Santa Clara, California. Both Sky Whirls are now gone.

The Demon roller coaster was born out of the "Turn of the Century" roller coasters in both Great America parks. The ad campaign claimed the older coaster (Turn of the Century) became possessed by the Demon. This was my favorite coaster at the park until I eventually couldn't fit into the car because of the too tight OTS restraints on the Arrow coaster trains. It featured a fog tunnel, two loops through rock formations, a light tunnel and a corkscrew through a blood-red waterfall. The Demon shown here is in Gurnee, Illinois.

Hope you enjoyed your vintage visit to the Marriott's Great America parks.

Information Source Material:
The Great American Amusement Parks, copyright 1976 by Gary Kyriazi
Funland U.S.A copyright 1978 by Tim Onosko
Roller Coaster Database

THANK YOU Ken Martinez!


Chuck said...

I visited the Santa Clara park with my family and some close friends soon after it opened in 1976, and these bring back so many memories.

I could be a pretty timid kid when it came to rides with any sort of elevation, and you've shared pictures of two of them. The Sky Whirl was one of them - there was NO WAY I was going to get on that thing (which I now regret) - and the upper deck of the Columbia Carousel was the other. For some reason, I remembered the upper deck as having no safety railing, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I rode it, but I also remember riding to the inside and only approaching the staircase in close proximity to my dad if not actually holding his hand.

Visually, one of my favorite memories is the opposing flume rides, the Yankee Clipper and Logger's Run. One had a straight final drop and the other had a "bump" in the middle, and I remember worrying about being launched from the ride during that bump (but I rode it anyway - and survived). On our final ride of the day, I rode with my dad and a father-son combo from the other family we were with. There was a lot of water in the bottom of the boat, and the two dads (both pilots) were seriously concerned that it had a hole in the hull and might be sinking.

I had a souvenir map for years, and I still have the oversized ball-point pen I bought as a souvenir. And now I have a snippet of the 1976 jingle stuck in my head - "the rides are great, the shows are great, the fun is great - at Marriott's Great America!"

Thank you so much, Ken, for sharing postcards of one of your hometown parks!

Tom said...

Here's a park I went to a lot as a kid. First of all - I remember back in the mid 70's the entire area being mostly flat farmlands stretching out from the hills, not like it is today - all built up and bustling. Marriott's, as we called it, was this beacon of awesomeness you could see from everywhere.

The first roller coaster I got talked into riding was The Tidal Wave, which wasn't an original there but was put up a few years later. I don't know if there were other loop coasters back then, but I remember it being a very novel concept at the time. Anyway it was terrifying - and it got me over my fear of coasters very quickly. My favorite one there was Willard's Whizzer, which had a rather gentle first slope down, but it picked up speed and had quite a few sudden turns and drops.

I was there just a few weeks ago for work, and only after I checked into my hotel (The Marriott) did I realize that I was right across the street from the place. It is not recognizable.

Nanook said...

I visited the park (Santa Clara location) many times beginning in the late 70's, and in spite of knowing a friend who worked there from 1979 - 1981, I remember surprisingly little about many of the rides there. I did visit the Gurnee location once, in the early 80's. However, I do remember the Turn of the Century, the Willard's Whizzer, the Tidal Wave and the Demon coasters - and certain other features: Not the least of which was Randall Duell's "circular layout" of the park - for better or worse..

Although I enjoyed the parks they were never my favorites for a variety of reasons, which could explain the fact when I was still visiting parks on a regular basis, these parks were not a part of the itinerary.

Thanks, Ken for sharing.

K. Martinez said...

Chuck, when riders loaded up into the Sky Whirl cabins and your wheel took off, it was kind of unsettling as it would accelerate pretty quickly in it's rotation and swing you up into the sky on one of its three arms simultaneously. Once your body adjusted to the motion and you wheel settled in its upper position, it was fine.

How funny that you never rode the top deck, because I never rode the bottom deck of the Columbia Carousel. I always took the top because my thinking was you could ride on a ground level carousel anywhere.

The Logger's Run had the double dip drop with a flat splashdown and the Yankee Clipper had the straight down drop with a hydroplane splashdown. I loved the two intertwining flumes and that they had different drops and landings. Marriott's had a lot of great visuals in their parks but sadly, it's ambitious start in Santa Clara kind of petered out in my opinion.

Tom, Oh yes, I remember how isolated Marriott's was back when it first opened. You could see the park for miles distance with no buildings or development yet in the way. Just flat lands.

The Willard's Whizzer Intamin Speedracer was a classic and the first coaster I rode when visiting the park in it's debut month of March 1976. I was bummed when they took that out. Now it's all businesses and office buildings and the new Levi's Stadium next door today. I haven't actually gone inside the park for years.

Nanook, I always thought the "Turn of the Century" was far more intense than "The Demon". Sure the double loops encased in rockwork were cool, but the two camelback hills of the "Turn of the Century" they removed for "The Demon" were insane. Randell Duell really thought his circular loop layout was the best way to go because it forced you to walk the entire park so you wouldn't miss any of the attractions. He claimed that Disneyland's layout was based on saturation and that you could miss attractions that way. Of course what did he know. I remember thinking how after riding The Demon I'd have to walk all the way around the park so I could ride The Tidal Wave. It bummed me that I couldn't just walk across to it.

I haven't been back to the park since the mid-1990's so that tells you what I think of what it's become. Even back its early days the park lacked seriously good coasters, but it was the only modern theme park next door to me so I liked it. What was discovered early on was that Marriott's Great America was no threat to the nearby older Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's popularity.

Thank you all for the kind comments. Glad you enjoyed today's pics.

Tom said...

Ken - thanks for sharing those pics!

And for reminding me of Logger's Run and Yankee Clipper. Those flume rides were my very favorite part of visiting the park, particularly on warmer days. I remember going on Logger's Run repeatedly one day when attendance was particularly light. Great memories!

David said...

Grew up with the Great America in Gurnee, Il. I remember wearing a tank top in the middle of summer there and burned my shoulders and back of the ears so bad that they blistered. And from that day on, my ears became super sensitive to both heat and Chicago's sometimes brutal winter cold.

TokyoMagic! said...

I always wanted to visit Great America when I was a kid.....and the Winchester Mystery House. I still haven't made it to either one! The Sky Whirl looks like a hoot. I know Magic Mt. had a double wheeled version of that attraction. Unfortunately, I didn't make it up there for the first time until just after it was taken out. Is there an existing version of that attraction anywhere in the country?

Thanks for sharing even more of your collection with us, Ken!