Thursday, October 15, 2015

Movieland Wax Museum - Haunted House & Frankenstein

Since Halloween is just about two weeks away, I thought we would do a SCARY post (sort of) today. Does anyone remember when Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park had a Haunted House? Well, they did!

Movieland's Haunted House sat on a dirt lot that was adjacent to their parking lot...pretty much right next to where the photographer stood to take this postcard shot of the Movieland sign.

Today, The Courtyard by Marriott sits on that property.

Here is what the property looked like back in the Spring of 1979. The Movieland sign and the driveway into the parking lot would be behind us in this shot. Notice how it is mostly adults that are going into the Haunted House.

The entrance was underneath the pitched roof in the center of the facade and the exit was underneath that turret on the far left. As for what was inside the Haunted House, I only recall lots of dark hallways and "monsters" jumping out and making loud noises. I don't remember there being any specific rooms or sets. I also remember that the pathway through the structure slowly sloped upwards, making the exit at a slightly higher elevation compared to the entrance. You can just make out a stairway that was outside the exit.

Oh, and incidentally, this was an "unseasonable" attraction since it was not specifically set up for Halloween.

Here's a close-up of the sign.

Now we will go inside Movieland and take a look at the museum's Frankenstein figure and examine how he has changed over the years.

First up is this postcard of a photo-op inside the museum, where visitors could purchase a souvenir photo of themselves with "Frankie". Note the three sample photos on the table in the foreground.

A friend of mine was kind enough to allow me to post his family's souvenir photo, which was taken in the early seventies. It appears to be the same figure as in the shot above, but the color of Frankenstein's skin has been changed to green.

During a childhood visit, my brother actually posed with this same figure, while I posed with the Wolfman figure. Unfortunately, my brother can't find his Frankenstein photo, but I have my Wolfman photo and I'll include it in a future post about Movieland's "other monsters."

This is what the back of the paper photo frame looked like.

Next we have this postcard of the museum's Frankenstein set. What I can't remember is if this set existed at the same time as the "photo-op" and there were two Frankensteins in the museum, or if at some point they moved the photo-op figure into his own set. I do remember that the "Monster Gallery" photo-ops were gone by the end of the seventies.

Here's another postcard shot. By this time, the set had been changed to an "outdoor" scene.

I took this next photo back in 1979, on the same day that I shot the Haunted House pic.

And I took this one in October of 2005, which was the last month of operation for the museum. By then the set had been changed back to an "indoor" scene. If you look at the details on Frankenstein's jacket (the rips, the blood, etc.) and compare them to the two previous photos, you can see that it is the exact same jacket.....over a span of more than 25 years.

So Movieland has been closed now for exactly one decade. Starbuck's still exists out front in what used to be the museum's "Starlite Gifts" souvenir shop. And a couple years ago, something finally moved into the main building. It is a dual exhibit of "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" and "Bodies: The Exhibition".

Both of these exhibits however, are scheduled to leave in January and a "butterfly pavilion" will be moving onto the property, along with a movie theater complex. The following article about the old museum sign and the current and future exhibits appeared in the L.A. Times earlier this year. It doesn't state whether or not the existing building is going to be reused for the new attractions, but I spoke with an employee in the box office and was told that it will be demolished.

I love how the towering sign has managed to survive since the Museum's closure in 2005. I understand how it might be confusing for tourists, but the article mentions how some people end up visiting the new exhibits because of the old sign. I hope the city does decide to keep it. In my opinion, it is a work of art and it should be preserved!

I wish they would also get the lights running again. From what I remember, the diamond shapes not only lit up, but they "twinkled" too....very vintage "Las Vegas"!

If anyone has memories of Movieland's Haunted House or any other memories of the museum that they would like to share, I would love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment below!


Chuck said...

Still kicking myself we never visited this place...

outsidetheberm said...

Nice post, Chris. So many good memories of Movieland Wax Museum. When the auction was held after the closure, we were lucky enough to rescue some of those 'Movieland goodies'. You'll see them again one day at Liberty Ranch!

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, sorry to hear that you never got to see Movieland. It really was unique. It's too bad they were no longer able to compete with the big guys like Disney, Knott's, and Universal.

OTB, I'm glad that you were able to rescue some items from Movieland. I can't wait to see what you have!

Major Pepperidge said...

As a kid I loved going here, as weird as it was. I still remember the Keystone Cop posted like a wax figure, suddenly moving to scare the crap out of people. Many of the movie scenes didn't mean anything to me at the time ("PT-109", "Dr. Zhivago", and... something with Sophia Loren?). But MAN did we love the monsters! That was our thing. Even though I admit that they kind of scared me - "I hope THEY don't move!".

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I forgot all about the Keystone Cop! I don't think we ever saw him in person, but I do remember him from the TV commercials. Thanks for the memory of that! My brother and I didn't know many of the movies either, but we knew enough of the stars to enjoy going there. Some of our favorite sets were from The Little Rascals, Three Stooges, Beverly Hillbillies, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz, Poseidon Adventure and of course, like you mentioned....all of the movie monsters!

Major Pepperidge said...

Was there an H.R. Pufnstuf scene? Or am I mixing the Wax Museum up with Universal Studios?

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I never saw an H.R. Pufnstuf scene, but that doesn't meant there wasn't one. My first visit to the museum was in 1976, so it's possible there could have been one prior to that. They did swap scenes out....which I don't think was right. Imagine being represented in the museum, but then one day you're not as popular so they take you out. I was very upset when I visited and realized Tony Orlando & Dawn had been taken out!

Omnispace said...

TM, a bit belated but I'm glad I found this post. That Haunted House looks pretty cool. Interesting that it was still a vacant lot at that time. Our annual family visits were already winding down by 1979, but about 10 years earlier we were actually in Buena Park for Halloween, staying at the Best Western Aztec Motel across the street. My parents actually took us trick-or-treating in the neighborhood just east of there off Azalea.

I also don't remember the Monster Photo Gallery but much later I do recall an entire section of the wax museum that that was devoted to horror movies. I'm guessing it was in the former space of the Palace of Living Art, but it was accessed from the rear where the mid-tour village shops were. Didn't they have a Frankenstein actor walking about?

That huge Movieland sign - it was absolutely fantastic! I would go out on an upper balcony of the Aztec and stare at it, mesmerized. The animation had multiple modes that built from quiet blue outlines of just the letters all the way to a magnificent crescendo of twinkling diamonds and letter infills. Even the diamonds at the end of the sign were animated. ..and all the while it rotated! I'm sure it rivaled the best signs in Las Vegas at the time.

I think the Wax Museum letters would light up in sequence, but wish I could better recall the exact sequence of animation. I suppose that's lost now that the sign has been dismantled. It looks like they plucked the letters and diamonds off of it but I wonder if anyone thought to salvage the animation mechanism. Would be nice if they saved the entire sign but I read it was in very poor shape, and about the size of a city bus. Thanks for sharing!

TokyoMagic! said...

Omnispace, that's neat that you got to stay at the Aztec Motel, which was one of those mid-century motels along Beach Blvd.

You are right about that special horror movie section that was built in the former Palace of Living Art space. When it was new, they promoted it as "The Black Box." There were different rooms that you entered where they closed the door, and then there were special effects and animated figures. I remember at the time it was new, they had scenes from "Halloween," "Altered States," and "Alien." I think they added it in 1981 or '82. I'm not sure when those specific scenes were removed, but I think that space later became the "Chamber of Horrors."

You are right about that Movieland sign. It was beautiful and definitely rivaled some of Las Vegas' old signs. I saw some old footage of the lights on the sign "in motion," not too long ago.....but now, I can't remember where I saw that. When I do a search on YouTube, nothing is coming up.

I can't believe I wrote this post 5 years ago, and to this day, nothing has opened on the old property. The butterfly pavilion has just been left in a "partially built" state, for years now. I've heard that something halted the construction on it, but haven't heard specifically what that was.

Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting!

Omnispace said...

TM, The Aztec might have been pushed up against both a busy thoroughfare and a bowling alley parking lot, but for this kid it was pure heaven: Color TV, A/C, swimming pool with two slides, neat cylindrical ice cubes, and cool attractions close by. At night it was in Mid-Century glory with tropical plantings in crushed white quartz and dramatic Malibu lighting. I don't know why my parents settled on it. I'm sure it was cheaper than the accommodations in Anaheim, and having Knott's right down the street was very appealing with its restaurants and casual shopping.

The morphing Chamber of Horrors is very indicative of Movieland. That place seemed to be different every time we went there. They just kept on adding to the building to create more exhibit space. In a way it was really cool to see for instance the new Superman set, but it also made for a very labyrinthine layout that wore you out by the end of one's visit. I almost preferred the early days when it has a more Classical and glamorous character.

It would be fantastic if that video on the sign turned up. Following up on some info I came across, I'd say that the animation was very similar to the original Stardust sign in Las Vegas. What's interesting is that I think Movieland's sign was constructed two years before the Stardust. But the elements are all there, including the blue neon outline of the letters and some of the diamonds in the sign's "quiet" mode.

TokyoMagic! said...

I wish I had photographed some of those motels along Beach, before they got torn down or remodeled. I've seen postcards for the Aztec (and other Buena Park motels) on ebay. There is one that only shows artwork for the Aztec, and it includes a towering Aztec man as part of the signage out front. I don't ever remember seeing that. I wonder if they just never built it, or if he was removed at some point.

My first visit to Movieland was in 1976, so I remember it kind of always being a long labyrinth of sets. I do remember when they added new scenes like the Poseidon Adventure set, and also the one for Superman.

The Stardust was the exact same sign that I was thinking of in Vegas, that reminded me of the Movieland sign. That's probably because of the diamond shapes and the way the would light up and then "dissolve." I wonder if they were designed by the same person? Or maybe someone was just influenced by the Movieland sign.