A Book Review at
Yesterland
Book Review:
Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years
Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years front book cover

Images of
America
series
 

Author:
Jay Jennings

Arcadia
Publishing
2009

128 pages
trade paperback
6.5" x 9"
 

Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
December 14, 2010


You’ve probably heard the story...

More than 30 years before Disneyland opened, Walter and Cordelia Knott began selling berries—including the first commercially cultivated boysenberries—at a roadside stand on their farm along California Highway 39 in Buena Park. A small restaurant followed. Quickly, the demand to eat there exceeded its capacity, so it grew bigger and bigger. But with each expansion, the waiting time to get a table grew longer rather shorter.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Knott’s Berry Place, 1928

Knott’s Berry Place, 1928

Walter Knott felt he should give his diners something do while they waited. His early “attractions” were modest, such as a rock garden, a replica of George Washington’s fireplace, and an old mill stream, all built in 1938. (The fireplace and old mill stream are still there!) The real transition to something that could be called a theme park (except that the term hadn’t yet been coined) came in 1940 with the first buildings of Ghost Town. The crowds of diners attracted artists, entrepreneurs, and colorful characters. Concessionaires added innovative shops, rides, and entertainment.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Active Volcano, 1939

Active Volcano, 1939

There’s been more focus on the history of Knott’s Berry Farm in 2010 then ever before. The attention is well-deserved because it’s a fascinating history.

At an all-day event at Knott’s on April 18, 2010, authors Christopher Merritt and J. Eric Lynxwiler (and foreword author Tony Baxter) signed copies of their brand new book, Knott’s Preserved, for book buyers who had ordered the book through Knott’s ahead of time.

I was at Knott’s Berry Farm that day, where I thoroughly enjoyed the history tours, presentation, group dinner, and panel discussion—and the pleasure of talking with local historians, bloggers, MiceChatters, podcasters, Knott’s fans and Knott’s employees. I had pre-ordered Knott’s Preserved, so I stood in line to have my copy of the book signed.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Blacksmith Shop, 1940

Blacksmith Shop, 1940

There was another book about Knott’s history on the event order form, and another author signing books that day. The book was Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years, published in August 2009 by Arcadia Publishing. The author was Jay Jennings, who subsequently published the PDF book Knott’s Berry Farm: Then & Now.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Walter Knott, 1941

Walter Knott, 1941

You might be familiar with Arcadia Publishing. They offer more than 5,000 local history titles. Whether the subject is the history of an obscure airport, the heyday of a blighted city neighborhood in the Midwest, or—in this case—the growth of a pioneering theme park with a worldwide reputation, the books all have one thing in common: a local historian with a passion for the subject matter has collected hundreds of photos and written a detailed caption (usually paragraph-length) about each one.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Main Street, 1947

Main Street, 1947

I didn’t order Jennings’ book. It was costing me enough just to be at Knott’s that day (I live in Illinois), not to mention the undiscounted cost of Knott’s Preserved and the event itself. I could always buy Jennings’ book later.

I finally bought Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years recently. I’m glad I did.

The term “Early Years” in the title means the book covers a period until the Roaring Twenties section of the park in the mid-1970s and the death of Walter Knott in 1981 at age 91.

Jennings selected more than 200 rare historical photos from his own collection and the Orange County Archives. The photos are printed in black-and-white on good paper, as is usual for Arcadia’s Images of America series. (The images in this review are a small sample of what’s in the book.)

The descriptions under each photo are well-written and interesting. The Arcadia format puts the emphasis on describing the photos rather than structuring a strong narrative. But Jennings manages to tell a surprisingly cohesive story anyway.

Photo from Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Gold Trails Hotel, 1947

Gold Trails Hotel, 1947

Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years is a worthwhile addition to the personal library of anyone who is interested in theme park history. It’s an excellent companion to Knott’s Preserved, which is the preeminent book about Knott’s Berry Farm.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author, filmmaker, and amusement park historian Jay Jennings is a Los Angeles native who grew up in the 1970s, spending his weekends at various Southern California amusement parks. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, he attended Columbia College of Film in Hollywood, after which he embarked on a successful career as a writer-director. Jennings has also spent the last 25 years researching the history of Southern California amusement parks, with an emphasis on Knott’s Berry Farm. In addition, he owns one of the largest collections of Knott’s Berry Farm memorabilia in the country.


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© 2010-2011 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 29, 2011.

Image of front cover of Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years: Courtesy of Jay Jennings.
Historical images of Knott’s Berry Farm: From the collection of Jay Jennings, courtesy of Jay Jennings.
 
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: Werner Weiss purchased a of the book Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years. Mr. Weiss does not receive any financial consideration from Arcadia Publishing or the author of the book.