Home » This Disastrous Indoor Theme Park Became CNN’s World Headquarters

This Disastrous Indoor Theme Park Became CNN’s World Headquarters

Like Disneyland, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was created by moguls in the entertainment industry, specifically the children’s entertainment industry. Both parks were made up of a combination of attractions based on characters and settings from their established properties and attractions made from new concepts.

But there were some key differences. Whereas Disneyland improved after its disastrous opening day, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft started from a pretty good place but struggled more and more as time went on.

Read on to learn more about the ill-fated theme park from the genius minds of the Krofft brothers..

The origin of Sid and Marty Krofft

At their height of their fame, most believed that the Krofft brothers were fifth-generation puppeteers from Greece. Years later, they would admit that a publicist fabricated that history to get them more attention in their early days. They actually grew up in Montreal and Long Island.

Ironically, their first claim to fame came for working for what would later be The World of Sid and Marty Krofft’s biggest competitor, Six Flags Over Georgia. They set up a booth where they put on a show and they got assignments to build a number of attractions. They didn’t jump into their own theme park immediately after that early success, however, instead moving to Hollywood and creating a lot of different, often popular TV programs.

The duo created landmark variety shows like Brady Bunch Hour, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and The Donny and Marie Variety Show. But, more to the point of the Sid and Marty Krofft theme park, they also created a number of television shows that weren’t animation but were specifically geared towards kids.

The children’s shows of Sid and Marty Krofft

As television producers, Sid and Marty Krofft famously made a lot of influential children’s shows throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Most were very original and ambitious fantasy shows that featured puppets, high concepts and affordable special effects. Some detractors actually accused the Krofft brothers of making them while high on LSD or marijuana. I think that says more about how inventive the brothers were than anything. Some of their programs that stood out were:

  • H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)
  • The Bugaloos (1970)
  • Lidsville (1971)
  • Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973)
  • Land of the Lost (1974)
  • Far Out Space Nuts (1975)
  • Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976)
  • The Krofft Supershow (1976)
  • The Krofft Superstar Hour (1978)
  • Pryor’s Place (1984)

And that’s less than half of their total output! They were clearly very busy and successful in Hollywood. Elements from some of those adaptions would be translated into attractions at the World of Sid and Marty Krofft, particularly in the Lidsville area and the Krofft character show, but, perhaps more significantly, success in children’s television provided the Kroffts with the funds to attempt a project as ambitious as a sizable theme park.

The park opened to a lot of early hype

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft had a lot going for it. It was built at the Omni International complex, taking up 10% of its space and making up 10% of its business. Especially worth noting is that it was the first fully indoor amusement park. This might not have been exciting to theme park fans in other locations, but it was to residents of the very warm city of Atlanta, Georgia where temperatures often surpass over 95 degrees in the summer. The only other amusement park nearby, Six Flags Over Georgia, left guests sweating and sunburned on a regular basis. People living near Atlanta must have been very excited for a chance to enjoy an amusement park without feeling the effects of the extreme heat.

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was designed to be a huge party that you could go to with your current friends and a place where you could make brand new friends. The mayor of Atlanta believed the park would be a resounding success. At a party the Sunday before the theme park opened he declared it the greatest opening in the city since Gone With the Wind and the best thing to hit any downtown in the world. Quite a bold statement that was quickly reputed by reality.

There were even a lot of advertisements for the park at big Atlanta businesses. Tickets were sold with a sign saying, “Now all the fun is indoors.” The Kroffts were already proving that they could entertain kids from their television sets, so it seemed natural that they could do the same with The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. The forthcoming park also had the benefit of being promoted on the well-watched Saturday morning TV program Krofft Supershow, where it was highlighted frequently during the host segments. There’s no doubt that when the park opened on May 26, 1976, it was to a lot of excitement and anticipation.

The attractions were wacky and ambitious

Image - toml1959/Flickr

The rides, shows and events at The World of Sid and Marty Krofft were very creative, much like the brothers’ television programs. Though some of the attraction received mixed reviews from attendees, the concepts behind them were quite impressive. Here’s what The World of Sid and Marty Krofft had to offer its guests.

A crystal-filled carousel

One of the most fascinating attractions was a large carousel that “floated” on a cushion of air and allowed you to ride mythological creatures made out of crystal. Famous designers came from all over the world to Los Angeles to design the figures, which were then shipped to Atlanta via 200 large trucks. The carousel weighed 47 tons in total.

A pinball machine-themed dark ride

Another popular attraction was meant to make you feel like you were in a giant pinball machine. Riders were placed in pods shaped like balls that would richochet around the area of the attraction.

An arcade

An arcade was with the pinball machine ride at the center of the park in the Uptown area.

The longest freestanding escalator in the world

Guests reached the highest levels of the park through an escalator that the Guinness Book of World Records named the longest escalator only supported at its ends at eight stories tall and 205 feet long.

Four uniquely named lands

Image via Facebook

The Atlanta park had fun titles for each of its “lands.” They were Tranquility Terrace, Uptown, Lidsvile and Living Island Adventure. Guests were given ticket booklets with one ticket for each area.

A carnival area

There was a floor with three circus trailers, each of which had a performer who did a two- to three-minute show based on a different narration. The most popular trailer involved Berry Broadbent, a bellydancing purple rhino voiced by Ruth Buzzi. The carnival area had a silly stilt-walking master of ceremonies.

A live performance stage

The live performance stage had a number of shows, featuring things like a team of three breakdancers, a slack rope walker, and a song-and-dance show. A number of shows in this area involved little people like Debbie Dixon from Star Wars and John and Greg Rice, named the “World’s Shortest Living Twins” in the Guinness Book of World Records

A Krofft character show

Image via Facebook

Kids (and maybe adults!) that came to The World of Sid and Marty Krofft for their love of the Krofft TV shows likely had the most fun here. It had a Krofft forest theme, a crafts stall with a leather crafts person and a theater with a live-action character show. One of the shows featured popular character H.R. Pufnstuf and other Krofft characters trying to stop adversaries Witchiepoo and the henchmen.

The Land of Green Ice

This was a skating rink on the ground level of the Omni International complex. At one point there was an ice skating show celebrating the bicentennial of the United States in 1976.

Fun facts

Image via Wikimedia Commons/MuppetDanny

Here are some interesting tidbits about The World of Sid and Marty Krafft shared by people who attended it back in the day.

  • Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer from Georgia who has played Kermit the Frog since the death of Jim Henson, worked at the park as a teenager with one of his homemade puppets
  • The park had an Elton John puppet in one of the attractions where they would paint your face like him.
  • The invitation to the opening of the World Sid & Marty Krofft came in a shiny black box and was printed on a dickey with a real bowtie. 

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was in a dangerous part of town

With all it had going for it, why did the park fail? One of the contributing causes was the location. It’s pretty nice now, but in the 1970s the Omni International complex was in what was described as “a transitional inner city area,” as it was close to major housing projects. There was a lot of crime at night. The city promised to clean the area up, but that never happened, or at least not to the extent that it needed to be cleaned up. The Krofft family even admitted that location was a hurdle for them because downtown Atlanta was experiencing urban decay and wasn’t a hospitable place for families. Marty Kroffft said at one point:

“The illusion was that it was dangerous to go downtown so people didn’t want to bring their kids down there. The park was the eighth wonder of the world, but we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.”

While forcing guests to spend time in the sweltering heat, Six Flags Over Georgia was at least in a safe area, giving it a strong advantage over its competitor.

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft didn’t have enough to do

Many theme park fans complain about how Disney’s Animal Kingdom is only a half-day park. The World of Sid and Marty Krofft couldn’t even claim to be that. Multiple sources reported that it took only about two hours to experience basically the whole park. That was due to a lack of events and attractions, and also because the layout essentially forced you to go through the theme park in a specific way. Once you reached the end, chances are you’d taken in most of what you wanted to, so there was no reason to return.

The lack of time it killed was a problem for parents and families. The World of Sid and Marty Krofft wasn’t worth a drive of any significant length to Atlanta if it would only keep the kids entertained for a couple hours. A professor of Urban Studies at a university in Atlanta named Dr. Dana White explained, “People were thinking of it as a full-day, family experience but it only took a couple hours. It wasn’t worth the money or the drive.”

The insufficient amount of entertainment also made the park feel overpriced. It was a little less expensive than its biggest competitor, Six Flags Over Georgia, at $5.75 for adults and $4.75 for kids, but the local Six Flags was much larger and with a lot more to do. Those two advantages overcame both the slightly higher costs and the respite from the heat that The World of Sid and Marty Krofft offered as an indoor amusement park.

Money problems began almost immediately

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft cost about $16 million to build, a hefty amount at the time and about $60 million once it’s adjusted for inflation. The projection was a much lower $14 million. It was made to hold up to 6000 guests at one time, but in the six months it was open it only attracted a paltry 300,000 visitors, which meant their revenue was well short of projections and the numbers they needed to continue running. Ride repairs also cost more than expected at about $24 million during its short run, contributing to the small amount of time the park was able to stay open.

It fell apart fast

Described as a “short-lived phenomenon,” The World of Sid and Marty Krofft closed after just five months of business. It was called one of the worst real estate disasters in history by Business Week. That might be overstating it, but the endeavor was definitely a disappointing one.

It was replaced by… CNN?

Image - tanjila ahmed/Flickr

In an unexpected turn of events, the Omni complex where The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was housed would go on to be the home of the headquarters of CNN, which is based in Atlanta. The space previously taken up by the park was said to be perfect for television studios and newsrooms with very large rooms and hallways. CNN moved in 1987, and owner Ted Turner would go on to buy the whole building. While the headquarters of a cable news channel might not sound as exciting to many of us as an ambitious theme park, the location has probably received a lot more visitors thanks to CNN.

The Kroffts’ enduring legacy

While it is absolutely fascinating, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft is ultimately just a small part of the brothers’ impressive history in the entertainment industry. The programs they created, both the variety programs and children’s shows, are fondly remembered by many of the people who grew up with them. The properties are even still being utilized, thanks to the tendency of Hollywood to look to reuse established ideas and concepts. Sid and Marty Krofft even have a show currently airing on Nickelodeon. Though their theme park was a bit of a disaster, Sid and Marty Krofft have still left quite a mark on the world at large.