Friday, September 12, 2008

Tangent Review: A Look Back at Orange County Amusement Parks

Images of America: Early Amusement Parks of Orange County, by Richard Harris. Charleston SC, et. al.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008; 127 pp.

Are you ready for a shock? When I was growing up, I didn't spend all my leisure time at Disneyland. It's not that I wasn't as crazy for Disney back then as I am now; it's just that there were a lot of different things you could do in Southern California, and my dad wanted to do as many of them as he could. (Of course, the fact that Disneyland wasn't cheap even back then and there were no such things as annual passports may have also influenced his decisions as to where to go.) As a result, I got the chance to see a lot of places that are sadly now long gone, like Movieland Wax Museum, Lion Country Safari, Marineland of the Pacific, and many others. Today's review is about a book that may bring back some memories of long-since-vanished leisure attractions. It sure did for me.

Chances are that you're already familiar with at least a couple of the books in Arcadia's Images of America series, which feature collections of historical photographs of numerous communities throughout the nation. One of the latest books in the series, Early Amusement Parks of Orange County (that's California, by the way, not Florida), is a collection of photographs and other images from attractions that operated in Southern California. Some of the parks featured are well-known worldwide (Disneyland, of course, and Knott's Berry Farm), some were pretty well known to southern Californians in their day (Movieland Wax Museum, Lion Country Safari, Japanese Village), and some of the attractions featured may tax the memory of even the most devoted amusement park goer (Gram Paw Mac's in Garden Grove, Old MacDonald's Farm in Mission Viejo). Most of the photos appear to be publicity shots that found their way into local historical archives, but the book also features images of things like advertising and ticket media. There are captions accompanying each photograph to provide a little context and brief paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter provide a little background, but let's be honest here - most folks aren't going to bother with the text, and the photos are so much fun that I can't blame them.

I really enjoyed this book. It's not exactly the most demanding book in the world, but I spent a lot of time looking through it anyway; Richard Harris apparently knows his Orange County amusement parks well enough to skip some of the more commonly seen photographs of the attractions and present historical photos that many people reading this book may not have seen before. The text... well, I could take it or leave it; the information's interesting, bust most of it sounds cribbed from local newspapers or general histories of Orange County. But as I said before, nobody's gonna buy this book for the text.

My only other complaint about Early Amusement Parks of Orange County also has to do with the text of the book - or more correctly, what's not part of the text. A book like this would be really served well by some sort of bibilography; I'm sure that there will be amusement and theme park afficionadoes like me that will look at this book and want to learn more about some of the places and things they see, but there are no references to start them on their searches. I realize this won't be that big a deal to most people who buy this book, but a bibilography would have been nice.

Early Amusement Parks of Orange County is a fun way to relive memories of amusement parks you may have visited in years gone by - or to experience a little of these places, if you never knew they existed before picking up this book. It's not deep reading, and it's not cheap ($19.95 MSRP for a 127-page book?!?), but it is very enjoyable. If you're a theme park fan - Disney or otherwise - this is a book you should pick up.

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