I'm starting a new series of posts themed around "Places I've Never Been" and Lion Country Safari happens to be one of those places! When I was a kid, my family went to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and Universal Studios a lot. We even went to the smaller parks, like Japanese Village & Deer Park (in Buena Park) and Busch Gardens (in Van Nuys), but I think Lion Country Safari in Irvine was just far enough away from where we lived in L.A. County, that it wasn't on my parents' radar.
The original Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida (near West Palm Beach) opened in 1967 and is still in operation today. It's success spawned five more parks across the country, with the Southern California version opening in 1970 and closing in 1984. The other four parks, which were in Grand Prairie, Texas; Stockbridge, Georgia; Mason, Ohio and Doswell, Virginia, have all closed as well.
I picked up this brochure for the California location when I was a kid, and I've kept it all these years.
I do remember hearing that the animals were never out in the numbers that were shown in television commercials, or in promotional photos like these. I also remember people saying that most of the animals were asleep when they went. Maybe someone out there can tell me what their experience of visiting the park was like!
Sleeping animals or not, I always wanted to go for the rides....even though they didn't appear to have very many. In my child's mind, it looked like they had their own versions of the Disneyland train, Motor Boat Cruise, Autopia, and Jungle Cruise.
Adults, $3.95 and Children, $2.75.....the prices seem reasonable enough.
Well, even though I never got the chance to see Lion Country Safari for myself, some of my family members did go in June of 1976, so I'm including the photos that were taken during their visit.
Apparently, the park offered rides on baby elephants. I hope this is something that would not be allowed today....at least not in the U.S.
This baby zebra reminds me of the statue of the dog that used to be in front of the Candy Parlor at Knott's Berry Farm, and also the statues of the burros that used to be in Knott's Fiesta Village area.
Hippo-shaped pedal boats! I wonder what happened to Lion Country Safari's rides after the park closed? I hope that at least the train was saved and went on to have a second life.
This smaller flyer appears to be from a bit later than the first brochure. It shows a one dollar increase in adult prices and mentions that Lion Country Safari is "Freeway Close To Everything.....a Gas Savings Convenience!" which would probably date this from the mid-1970's when the country was experiencing an "energy crisis."
Convertibles and pets are not permitted in the park! That's nice that they provided free kennel service for pets. And even though the park itself didn't move, the back of this flyer now lists the park's address as Laguna Hills instead of Irvine. That reminds me of when the Matterhorn at Disneyland "moved" from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland!
Of all the animals that resided at Lion Country Safari over the years, two of them became somewhat famous. Frasier the Lion was a "star attraction" at the park back in it's heyday. Frasier was already a geriatric kitty cat when the park acquired him from a Mexican circus in 1970 and he only lived a couple more years after that, but he sired more than 30 lion cubs during his time at Lion Country Safari! This 1972 photo of Frasier and his "family" is from the Los Angeles Times.
Frasier was even the subject of a motion picture in 1973, Frasier the Sensous Lion. A stand-in lion was actually used for Frasier.
Bubbles was an eight year-old hippo that became headline news after she escaped from the park in 1978 and roamed around free for almost 3 weeks. (I actually just heard Richard Dawson make a "Bubbles" reference on Match Game '78, on the Buzzr Channel last night.) Unfortunately, her story ended more tragically than Frasier's, and can be read about here if anyone is interested: Bubbles the Hippo. This 1978 photo of Bubbles and her daughter is from the Los Angeles Times.
I remember reading articles about the death of both of the animals and sharing the one about Frasier during "current events" at school. I wish I had saved those articles. I saved a lot of newspaper clippings from childhood, but unfortunately the obituaries for the two Lion Country Safari residents are long gone.
The death knell for Lion Country Safari itself, came when the park went bankrupt and closed permanently in 1984. Wild Rivers waterpark was built on the site two years later. Wild Rivers closed in 2011 and the Los Olivos Apartment Village sits on most of the property today. (In 1981, the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater was built on a portion of Lion Country Safari's land but it was torn down in November of 2016 and will be replaced with more apartments.)
As I mentioned earlier, the original Lion Country Safari in Florida is still operating. About ten years ago, I acquired a family's set of Florida vacation slides from 1975. The set included pics of Walt Disney World (which I have posted in the past), Cypress Gardens, Busch Gardens, and Lion Country Safari. Here are the pictures that were taken at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee. The slides are dated March, 1975 and these are all in the order that they were taken.
Note the hood of the car and the side-view mirror in the next two pics:
A lone rhino:
The color on most of these had turned. I tried to correct them the best that I could, but I don't have Photoshop. I do realize that there is too much green in most of them. I was tempted to just convert them all to black and white!
A lone ostrich:
I'm not sure what kind of animal this is. It looks a little bit like a deer. Maybe it's an antelope?
And now we get to the animals that the park is named after:
I'm guessing that tire was thrown out there for the lions to play with, or maybe it was used as a scratching post? I suppose it could be all that's left of some visitors and their car after breaking down out there!
Just like the park in California, the original had an amusement area adjacent to the drive-thru section and included animal shows, bird feeding pavilions and a few rides. Today that area is called Safari World and includes a small water park. I believe this first pic was taken at the entrance to the park. I'm basing that off of the current park map, but these pics are 42 years old, so a lot could have changed since then. If anyone knows for sure, please chime in below in the comments!
I hope everyone enjoyed this 1970's visit to two of the five Lion Country Safari parks! I'm going to end this post with a clip from an episode of The Simpsons, when they go to a fictional park called, "Discount Lion Safari." The episode is titled, "Old Money" and is from Season 2 of the show. It's kind of a sad episode. This two and a half minute clip includes the part where the family goes to the drive-thru safari park:
Well, it's April Fool's Day and unlike some of my past April Fool's Day posts, this one is not a joke. It is however, something that some of us WISH had been a joke....or just a bad dream!
"Light Magic" was the highly touted replacement for the beloved Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland. It started being "pushed" on us during the "Farewell Performances" of the Electrical Parade in 1996, when a special announcement right before every parade performance told us to, "Open the window to your dreams and see your wishes come true, when Light Magic makes it's journey to Disneyland in 1997. It's an exciting new street spectacular that will illuminate the night in the Magic Kingdom. We hope you will join us when the Light Magic celebration begins in 1997."
These fiber optic signs were posted above both train tunnels on Main Street during the farewell season of the Main Street Electrical Parade:
And then there was this sign hanging on the fence next to the exit of the Disneyland parking lot:
Light Magic-related construction began in early 1997 along the Small World Mall area. This nice, wide open view of the It's A Small World facade was eventually blocked by permanent lighting and sound towers that were erected for the new parade. Note the former Motor Boat Cruise lagoon (drained) on the far right.
A construction wall went up blocking off the entire roadway except for a narrow path on the far left, leading to Toontown.
And yet another sign, trying desperately to get people excited for the "spectacular journey" that was coming.
I guess this artwork on the construction wall was a little touch of foreshadowing. Pixies are coming to Disneyland! (An infestation of them!)
The section of the wall pictured above had two peek holes in it, but if you went a little further north, the wall ended and there were only tarps separating the guests from the construction. Below, is some video footage that I shot back in 1997 of the Small World Mall area under construction. In addition to the sound and light towers going up, a terraced viewing area on the east side of the parade route was being created and the souvenir stand/chalet over by the Matterhorn was also being built.
It's A Small World was closed, but guests could get a closer view of the construction from the Disneyland Railroad.
Eventually, the roadway was opened back up, but construction still continued in the area. The parade route that had previously consisted of slurry coated asphalt had been replaced with concrete to support the weight of the massive new parade units.
I hate to admit it, but we were actually suckered into paying $25 for an Annual Passholder "sneak preview" of Light Magic. This was the gate flyer being handed out that night.
Also for that $25 price, we were "given" the opportunity to purchase "exclusive" merchandise in advance before the general public. I bought this "light-up" button BEFORE I actually saw the parade.
We had originally been very excited to see the new parade. After all, if they were getting rid of the Electrical Parade after 24 years, then this new parade must be something pretty incredible, right? WRONG! The parade was so inexplicably horrible. We were dumbfounded. How could anything so awful have been allowed to get past the concept stage and actually into the park? Who kept green-lighting it along the way?
I should also mention that in addition to the parade being just plain bad, the performance that night was also delayed because of technical problems. We waited and waited for it to start, only to have Paul Pressler come out and announce that what we were about to see wasn't a sneak preview of the completed parade after all, but a "dress rehearsal" and as with most dress rehearsals, there may be some "glitches." After several long and painful "false starts", the parade finally began, but it continued to have problems including one of the projection screens not working. There were only two screens, so half of the people watching missed that part of the show.
Well, after paying $25 just to see the parade before the general public, we felt like we had been majorly ripped off. I really wanted to go complain at City Hall, even though I had/have never gone in there to complain about anything in the park, no matter how warranted it might be. As we were walking through the park and heading towards the exit, we could hear everyone around us grumbling about how bad the parade was and how they couldn't believe that THAT was what was replacing the Electrical Parade! When we got to Town Square, we noticed a very long line out the doorway of City Hall and I thought, okay, I don't need to complain because there are plenty of other people doing it. Then, just as we were passing the front door, someone came running out waving money in their hand and announcing loudly "They're giving refunds.....CASH!!!!" We immediately got in line. The cast members were processing everyone through very quickly. They weren't even asking any questions, they were just handing money out to everyone in line.
To add insult to injury that night, guests were being given a sneak peek of the "New" Tomorrowland, which was under construction at the time. "Look, we're destroying Tomorrowland....get excited about it!"
The artwork below was on display in Tomorrowland and showed the layout of the upcoming Rocket Rods attraction. We all know the tragic ending that had, so I won't go into that here. Maybe that could be the subject of next year's April Fool's Day post!
This was a model showing what the exterior mural of the Innoventions building was going to look like when finished. That mural was actually painted over just about a year ago when the "Star Wars Launch Bay" moved into the building.
If you have stayed with me this far (thank you!), here is something morbidly fascinating that I captured on video. The footage below shows the Light Magic floats (or "rolling stages," as management preferred to call them) being driven through the park in broad daylight. Why is this being done did you ask? Well, it turns out that since the parade stopped for it's "street performances" in ONLY two places along the entire parade route, the walkways in those areas would be packed solid with people. And since the parade would begin up at It's A Small World, when it was finished performing back there, many of the guests that had just seen it would try to leave the park, only to get bogged down on Main St. where the parade was having it's second "show stop."
Management decided to remedy this, by having the parade start in Town Square. That way, it would be moving in the opposite direction of the guests that were trying to leave the park. Well, in order to do that, they had to get the floats/stages over to the parade start gate in Town Square. And rather than moving them in the early morning before the park opened, they did it in the late afternoon, just hours before the actual parade, and right in front of park guests! People would already be sitting along the parade route, saving a viewing spot for the parade. I remember cast members running around telling the confused guests that this wasn't the parade and that the actual parade would be in a few hours. Talk about "bad show." The whole thing was really quite unbelievable.
Light Magic ended up closing less than four months after it debuted. Park officials kept insisting that it would be reworked and return the following summer, but fortunately that did not happen!
If anyone is really curious and wants to check out some footage of the streetcrapular they called "Light Magic," here is a video. This isn't my footage, and I'm not even recommending that you watch it. I'm just including it here as a matter of convenience for anyone that did not catch it during it's short run and has nothing better to do with the next 20 minutes of their life. OR, you could just watch the first 30 seconds of the video, which includes the Light Magic television commercial, and be done with it after that!
When I started my blog nine years ago, I never in a million years thought that I would ever be doing a "Light Magic" post, but I had the photos, the videos, and the souvenirs, and thought it might be appropriate to post them all on April Fool's Day. So there you have it! And a happy April Fool's Day, to everyone!