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5 Ambitious Theme Parks That Took On Disney and FAILED

Freedomland USA

The amusement park industry existed prior to the debut of Disneyland in 1955, but Walt Disney's creation was very different to the typical fun park of the day. It replaced steel thrill rides with carefully-crafted dark rides, surly operators with friendly Cast Members and ugly concrete surroundings with beautifully-themed landscapes. It was so different that it became known not as an "amusement park", but as a "theme park".

Despite an infamous opening day beset by overcrowding and technical problems, Disneyland proved to be an overnight success. During its first week, 161,657 visitors passed through its gates. Just seven weeks after opening, the park registered its one millionth guest, and by the end of the first year total attendance had reached 3.6 million.

Others were looking on enviously as Disneyland thrived. Inevitably, a slew of rival parks were soon announced, each looking to cash in on the new market for family-friendly theme parks. Tens of millions of pounds were invested in creating these wonderlands, but they were lacking a critical ingredient: the influence of Walt Disney himself.

Modest, "regional" theme parks such as Six Flags Over Texas found a market, and Universal succeeded in creating a new type of attraction with its studio tour. But those that attempted to become Disneyland-style "destination parks" failed one-by-one - often quite spectacularly. Let's take a look at 5 of the best examples.

5. Magic Mountain (Denver, Colorado)

During the construction of Disneyland, dozens of talented art directors and engineers were hired to work on the project. After the park opened, many of them were let go. Naturally, those looking to build rival theme parks were quick to hire them to take advantage of their expertise.

One of the enterpreneurs looking to enter the theme park business was Walter Francis Cobb, who had already created several roadside attractions in the Denver area. In 1957, he teamed up with John Calvin Sutton to form Magic Mountain, Inc. and announced plans to build the first full-scale theme park to be constructed by a company other than Disney.

Immediately, Cobb began hiring ex-Disneyland employees. The most prominent was C.V. Wood, the man who led the construction of Disneyland but later fell out with Walt Disney and formed his own consulting firm, Marco Engineering. Wood's firm included a host of veteran Hollywood art directors, including some who had helped design Disneyland.

Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain was to occupy a sprawling 600-acre site at the foot of the mountains at Apex Gulch. The park was to celebrate the past, present and future of Colorado, and its design was strikingly similar to that of Disneyland. A narrow-gauge railway would circle the park, which would feature lands including Centennial City (similar to Frontierland), Storybook Lane (similar to Fantasyland) and Magic of Industry (similar to Tomorrowland).

From 1957-59, a host of attractions were built, including the railroad and a Main Street, USA-style area. Almost immediately, though, financial problems surfaced, and the plans were scaled back - with Magic of Industry and Storybook Lane being dropped altogether. An artifical ski slope was installed and proved to be successful, but the theme park was shuttered in 1960. Many of its rides were sold off to Six Flags Over Texas, a regional theme park with more modest ambitions.

Abandoned street

An abandoned area of Heritage Square.
Image: Xnatedawgx, Wikipedia

Eventually, in 1970, Magic Mountain was resurrected as Heritage Square, a themed shopping village that is free to enter. It is still operating today, although some areas are left as abandoned reminders of its past.

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There are 9 comments.

I remember Circus World had painted concrete walkways that when freshly washed and wet in the morning were the slipperiest law suit waiting to happen ever.

I remember in 1982 Circus World let Disney employees in for free. Good marketing idea. Wooden coaster was a lot of fun and usually no wait. Also loved the chilli covered open faced burgers.

my first elephant ride was at Circus World 1977!

The place that was once Freedomland is now home to Co-Op City and Pelham Bay Park

The Heritage Square village that was left from Magic Mountain closed at the end of 2015.

I went to Freedomland with my family when I was a 10 year old kid. I remember they recruited kids to pump water from old time fire engines to put out the Great Chicago Fire.

I went to Circus World in 1980. Two things I remember vividly, the Roaring Tiger Rollercoaster, IT WAS AWSOME. My boyfriend and I ( now husband ) got to ride in the front seat multiple times and didn't even need to get off the ride. And the second, I got to walk the high wire. It was AMAZING, 30 feet off the ground walking a thin wire, the Circus Master announced you, where you were from like if you were a real performer. Of course you were all harnessed up but WOW. what an opportunity.

I've been to Heritage Square before - the last time I went was probably in the summer of 2014, and I have good memories of that place. I loved the Tilt-A-Whirl and the alpine slides. Unfortunately, the alpine slides closed after the 2015 season, and I'm a little bit bummed that I'm never going to get to ride them again, but there's nothing I can do about it anyway, you know? My family loved that place and I really hope I'll be able to go back sometime.

I've been to Circus World and Pirates World. We lived not too far from Pirates World. I was VERY young then. I only remember the crows nest. We went to Circus World one year while staying at the Contemporary resort at WDW. It was also the same visit we went to the new Wet & Wild. Good memories.

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