A Photo Essay at
Knott’s Berry Farm
Then and Now

I was at Knott’s Berry Farm last month for an all-day event celebrating the publication of a wonderful new book, Knott’s Preserved, which I reviewed here on March 19.

As a follow-up to my Disneyland Then and Now series, I brought along some historic photos from the Knott’s Berry Farm Collection of the Orange County Archives to see if I could take matching photos of those locations today. Here are the results.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, May 14, 2010

Knott's Berry Farm
Gold Mine entrance (1964 publicity photo)
Knott's Berry Farm
GhostRider queue entrance (2010 photo)

The original Pan for Gold attraction at Knott’s opened in 1947 in a sunken ravine on the edge of Ghost Town near the lava-rock volcano. Guests could pan for real gold and take home the results of their effort in a little glass vial. There were two ways to descend into the ravine. One way was to walk down steps. The other way—the fun way if you were a kid—was to enter a mine shaft that descended to a tunnel opening at the other end of the ravine, while providing peeks at the gold mine along the way. And that’s how it was for a half century.

In 1998, Knott’s opened GhostRider, a 4,533-foot-long, 118-foot-high wooden roller coaster. The massive ride needed a massive queue. The queue needed to begin in a high-visibility location, even though the track was behind Knott’s California Marketplace. The Pan for Gold attraction moved to another part of the park, and the mine shaft became the beginning of the GhostRider queue. New rockwork with the GhostRider logo covered the original entrance.

Knott's Berry Farm
Bird Cage Theatre (historic publicity photo)
Knott's Berry Farm
Bird Cage Theatre (2010 photo)

The Bird Cage Theatre opened in 1954. The façade looked just like the historic Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona. But behind the façade, the theater was essentially a tent with simple wooden folding chairs on tiered levels. For a half century, audiences could enjoy old-fashioned melodramas. Cheer for the hero! Boo at the villain! The melodramas were a lot of fun. They lasted until 1997.

The Bird Cage Theatre is still there. It’s now used for special events. In April 2010, the multimedia presentation and panel discussion for the Knott’s Preserved event took place in the Bird Cage Theatre. Knott’s management even spruced up the lobby for the occasion.

Knott's Berry Farm
Jim Jeffries Barn, home of Mott’s Miniatures (1978 photo)
Knott's Berry Farm
Wilderness Dance Hall (2010 photo)

The Jim Jeffries Barn was once located in Burbank on the 107-acre ranch of heavyweight boxing champion James J. Jeffries (1875 - 1953). Moved to Knott’s Berry Farm in 1954, the barn originally housed a boxing museum. Baby boomers will remember the Jeffries Barn as the longtime location of Mott’s Miniatures, an amazing collection of dollhouses and miniatures that called Knott’s home from 1958 until 1992.

It’s now called the Wilderness Dance Hall. On busy summer weekends, it serves a traditional all-you-can-eat barbecue feast. At other times, it can be rented for weddings or meetings. For “Knott’s Scary Farm” during the Halloween season, it’s turned The Doll Factory, a creepy chamber of horrors with actresses playing disfigured porcelain dolls—once-beautiful victims of the Marionette Murderer.

Knott's Berry Farm
Pedestrian passage under Butterfield Stagecoach route (1956 photo)
Knott's Berry Farm
Silver Bullet queue entrance under Butterfield Stagecoach route (2010 photo)

In California, El Camino Real (“The Royal Road” or “The King’s Highway”) was a path that connected the 21 Spanish missions that stretched from San Diego to the Bay Area. Knott’s Berry Farm had its own El Camino Real, a path connecting detailed models of the missions. The path began with mission arches and an underpass under the Butterfield Stagecoach route.

The underpass is still there, now serving as the entrance to the queue for Silver Bullet, an inverted roller coaster that opened in 2004. The arches and the models of the missions are gone. According to local Orange County historian Phil Brigandi, the missions are now in storage. (At least they’re not in a landfill.) In fact, the pedestrian path the was once El Camino Real is gone too.

Knott's Berry Farm
Seal Pool at Knott’s Berry Farm (year unknown)
Knott's Berry Farm
Fiesta Village, but not the exact location of the old Seal Pool (2010 photo)

Yes, Knott’s Berry Farm once had a “Seal Pool” (sea lion pool), one of the myriad of concessions on the outskirts of Ghost Town. Guests could buy fish chunks for the semi-aquatic marine mammals who begged for food by barking at guests continuously. There was no gate admission to Knott’s in those days, so presumably the concessionaire earned enough to operate the Seal Pool by selling the fish chunks.

In mid-1968, Knott’s Berry Farm began charging a gate admission. With it came the 1969 makeover of the hodgepodge of concessions north of Ghost Town into Fiesta Village. The Seal Pool became an out-of-place component of an area that celebrated California’s Mexican heritage. But it would only remain for a few more years. The Fiesta Plaza dance pavilion replaced the Seal Pool in 1974, just in time for a Cinco de Mayo grand opening,

Charleston Square, Knott's Berry Farm
Charleston Square (photo circa 1976)
Charleston Square, Knott's Berry Farm
Charleston Square (2010 photo)

In 1975, a new “land” at Knott’s, the Roaring 20’s Amusement Area, replaced the short-lived Gypsy Camp (1971) and a parking lot behind the Calico Mine Ride. Major new attractions, including the world’s first corkscrew ride and Knott’s Bear-y Tales, brought a surge of guests. A year later, another expansion, the Roaring 20’s Airfield, added eight more attractions, including the Parachute Sky Jump. Charleston Square provided the transition from Calico Square to the Roaring 20’s.

Charleston Square and its fountain are still there. The circular square is now surrounded by large trees, making it impossible to take a picture that includes the fountain from the same angle as in the vintage photo. Knott’s Bear-y Tales closed in 1986. The Roaring 20’s Airfield became the Boardwalk in 1996.

Buffalo Nickle Penny Arcade and Lindy's Cafe, Knott's Berry Farm
Buffalo Nickle Penny Arcade and Lindy’s Café (photo circa 1975)
Johnny Rockets at the site of the Buffalo Nickle Penny Arcade, Knott's Berry Farm
Johnny Rockets at the site of the Buffalo Nickle Penny Arcade (2010 photo)

The Buffalo Nickle Penny Arcade and Lindy’s Café opened as part of the Roaring 20’s Amusement Area in 1975. The stone canyon of Gypsy Camp (with its hidden cave entrances) gave way to a charming, old-fashioned street. These 1920s weren’t opulent like art deco Hollywood. This area was a comfortable 1920s.

Since 2006, the former arcade has been world’s largest Johnny Rockets, with 5,900 square feet of floor space and seating for more than 260. Officially part of the Boardwalk themed area, there’s no longer a 1920s theme. However, you can still make out some of the original features of the building.

This article only touches on the history of Knott’s Berry Farm. If you want more, I highly recommend Knott’s Preserved by Chris Merritt and Eric Lynxwiler (link to my March 19 book review). The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. But it’s also fun to read about the many attractions and shows that came and went over the years—some more successful than others. There are great stories about people who shaped Knott’s Berry Farm throughout its long history.

Knott's Preserved in Virginia's Gift Shop at Knott's Berry Fram
Knott’s Preserved in Virginia’s Gift Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm


You might be interested in these related articles at Yesterland:

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Universal FL Then and Now
Bear-y Tales “Fun Map”

© 2010-2015 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated May 1, 2015.

Historic photographs of Knott’s Berry Farm courtesy of the Orange County Archives, Santa Ana, California, from the Knott’s Berry Farm Collection.
Corresponding 2010 photos of Knott’s Berry Farm: 2010 by Werner Weiss.