Photos: The Beverly Grove Theme Park That Inspired Walt Disney
It's hard to imagine that the space where the Beverly Center is now located was once home to a bustling children's amusement park that served as the inspiration behind Disneyland.
Beverly Park, which parents nicknamed Kiddieland, operated from 1945 to 1974 on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and La Cienega Avenue. Jay Jennings, an amusement park historian and author of Beverly Park: L.A.'s Kiddieland, tells LAist that it was a special place for him and he spent many a weekend there as a child hopping on rides and attending friends' birthday parties.
"Whether it was the rides like the Little Dipper roller coaster, Boat Ride, Tilt-A-Whirl, Merry-Go-Round, Helicopter Ride, Ferris Wheel, or Haunted Castle, or the hot dogs, popcorn, and cotton candy, or just walking around the grounds with your friends, millions of kids just like me thought Beverly Park was the greatest place on earth," Jennings says.
"Beverly Park also had this magical aura about it once you stepped through the entrance gate," Jennings says. "You could literally see all the rides at once, depending on what direction you looked in. It was a small and intimate amusement park, not overwhelming at all, where kids could roam freely and easily find where their parents were sitting."
There was also Ponyland next door to Beverly Park, where kids could pick a pony and ride it around the tracks. Since Beverly Park was located close by to Hollywood and movie studios, celebrities would take their kids there on the weekend; you could even spot stars like John Lennon, Kirk Douglas, and Sonny and Cher on a good day.
Jennings says the park's owner, Dave Bradley, was an entrepreneur, a ride inventor, and an innovator in the amusement park industry. "He wanted to leave something memorable in each kid's mind, before, during, and after the ride ended," Jennings says. "So, he created themes for each ride that might include small lakes, flower beds, talking animals, tunnels and interesting murals to coincide with every ride."
In the late 1940s, Walt Disney would take his daughters to Beverly Park on Sunday afternoons, and spend time chatting with Bradley about developing rides and operating theme parks, and talk to guests about what they liked about the rides. Disney would later hire Bradley to work with him on his new project—a theme park called Disneyland—on concepts and new rides. Bradley worked with Disney from 1950 to 1955 when the park opened, but left the company to go back to his one true love—Beverly Park—on a full-time basis. Jennings says the two still remained close friends even after Bradley left Disneyland.
"In the end, Disney utilized many of Dave Bradley’s ideas for Disneyland, such as the concept of 'themed photos ops' where certain parts of the park could be specifically designed for taking family photos," Jennings says. "Bradley also convinced Disney that everything on Main Street should be built to 7/8th scale, so visitors would feel tall and not so overwhelmed as they walked around."
Beverly Park met its end in 1974 when the land's owner, Beverly Oil Company, told Bradley that they were jacking up the price of his lease. They also wanted to add more oil wells for drilling around the property. Bradley decided that after nearly 30 years at the amusement park, it was a ripe time to close it down. The developers of the Beverly Center would later buy the land and finish building the mall in 1982.
Jennings is now working on a documentary on Beverly Park.