Knott’s Berry Farm, the iconic amusement park in Orange County, is about to auction off 225 treasures dating back the early years of the park in the 1940s. Original props, life-size figures, and authentic 19th century antiques are all being offered by Heritage Auctions, now through March 31. Knott’s stayed in the founding family until 1997—and even then they maintained a stake until 2010—so treasures in the attic lay undisturbed for generations.
Walter and Cordelia Knott were living a quiet life on their berry farm before they created the world’s first theme park. Mrs. Knott started offering chicken dinners to folks who stopped to sample the boysenberries, and crowds started turning up. To entertain them, Walter built a ghost town attraction behind the restaurant in 1940 and lived on the grounds until he died four decades later.
Knott hired fine artists to create original works for the restaurants and attractions, but he also scoured antique shops and sometimes brought entire buildings back from a desert excursion. He even rebuilt the historic mining town of Calico in 1952 and opened it as a tourist attraction about 120 miles north of Los Angeles.
The attention to detail at Knott’s was extraordinary for the time—costumed performers in period settings evoking the Old West. It was almost like a new land, like something you might find on the frontier. Walt Disney built his park just down the road in 1955.
Cedar Fair, the park’s current owner, has made some improvements sensitive to the historic nature of the park in recent years. They’ve brought back Sad Eye Joe and made major enhancements to the Calico Mine Ride, but it’s a shame that some of these vintage artifacts can’t make their way back into the park. I would gladly pay extra for a root beer in the saloon if it were filled with dancing girls, slot machines, and a jungle band. But hey, now you can buy them for yourself; history’s loss is your den’s gain.
The public preview is March 29 and 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at The Barn at Knott’s Berry Farm (7860 Western Ave., Buena Park).