Author asks Golden residents for help in documenting Magic Mountain’s history

The following was originally published in the Golden Transcript.

In search of Magic moments
Author asks Golden residents for help in documenting Magic Mountain’s history
by Linda Detroy Alexander

November 10, 2010 | 03:51 PM
Magic Mountain needed a big sprinkle of fairy dust to be a success, but Disney wasn’t sharing Tinkerbell.

The amusement park, part of a grand scheme to build a dozen or more Disneyesque parks across the county, opened its gates on June 30, 1960, but closed for good just two months later. It was the victim of lawsuits filed by Disney against the designer of the park, Marco Engineering (the head of whom was a former Disney vice president) and, poor leadership, or as some say, leaders who lined their own pockets with investors’ money.

© Golden History Museums, City of Golden Collection

Bob McLaughlin, an author from Wakefield, Mass., wants to tell the story of Magic Mountain, which is now Heritage Square, 18301 W. Colfax Ave. Magic Mountain was the first of the amusement parks to be built, followed by just two others.

“This is the only one of the copycat parks that still has anything intact,” McLaughlin said. “The core four blocks of Heritage Square are all original to Magic Mountain”

McLaughlin is fascinated by the history of the parks and the men who had the grandiose dreams to build them. He has already written books about the others: Pleasure Island opened in 1959 in Wakefield and was billed as the “Disneyland of the East.” It too went bankrupt during that first season, but new owners kept it open until 1969.

Freedomland, New York’s answer to Disneyland, was built in the Bronx and opened just before Magic Mountain. It also closed its doors because of bankruptcy, lasting only four years.

McLaughlin’s books are part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. A prominent feature of the series is the abundant use of photographs.

“If I don’t have the photos, it ain’t gonna happen,” McLaughlin said during a visit to Golden in October. “I’m chasing down bits and pieces of the story, and I need some help.”

The help he needs most is from people who remember going to Magic Mountain, and who have pictures or home movies of those trips. Other memorabilia, such as tickets, programs or posters, would also be valuable for the book.

While in Golden, McLaughlin met with Mark Dodge, exhibit and collections curator for the Golden Museums, to find out if those items would be valuable to the museums. Dodge was also able to give McLaughlin some leads on contacting people who were in Golden while Magic Mountain was being developed.

McLaughlin also visited Heritage Square to take photos of the buildings as they look today, walk the railroad tracks around the park, and talk to anyone he could find who remembered the park. With him, he carried a binder crammed with newspaper clippings, photocopies of documents about the park and other bits of its history that he has unearthed as he has crisscrossed the country to do research on the three amusement parks.

“Three years ago, I was in Golden and tried to get people to come out of the woodwork,” he said.

He and a friend who now lives in Golden, Bill Robie, put up flyers around town, but didn’t get a single response. This time, with the involvement of the History Museums, he hopes he’ll have better success.

“If the museums get even one photograph, that’s one more than they’ve got,” McLaughlin said.