Knott's Berry Farm still packs 'em in

It could be a case of trying harder when you're only No. 2.

But Knott's Berry Farm is doing 10 percent better on attendance this year than last. Knott's has undercut Disneyland on price by 20 percent and brought in a new string of special entertainments. Charles Schulz's beloved Snoopy has been in residence, so to speak, this summer. There's even been a special musical fireworks show, based on the scores of recent films.

''Granddaddy of theme parks'' is a title traditionally given to Disneyland, which opened its doors in 1955. But in fact, the Knott enterprise has a reasonable claim to that title.

The Knotts, Walter C. and Cordelia, settled in Buena Park in 1920 to run - you guessed it - a berry farm. When times got tight during the Depression, Cordelia took to serving chicken dinners to the public. When the lines got to be long, Walter built a ''ghost town'' to entertain people as they waited. The first buildings were originals, moved from real ghost towns in Arizona and Nevada. But when those came to be prized as historic treasures, Mr. Knott began having reproductions built instead.

The park's growth has continued pretty much along those lines over the years, with a lot of emphasis on the eating places and retailing, particularly food products - Mrs. Knott's jams and syrups. In recent years, though, some thrill rides have been added to appeal to the ''white knuckle'' crowd.

Disneyland, over in Anaheim, opened in 1955. As every student of American popular culture knows by now, it was Walt Disney's vision of an alternative to the tawdry, unamusing ''amusement parks'' of the immediate postwar years. It got off to a rocky start, but has flourished since, although attendance is down slightly - 6.5 percent since the fiscal year began last Oct. 1, according to one estimate. Ron Dominguez, vice-president of operations for Disneyland, blames the recession and the strong dollar, which has cut overseas tourism, for the falloff.

But the recession works both ways on Disneyland and Knott: even as it discourages visitors from east of the Mississippi, it also holds a large southern California resident audience ''captive,'' looking for entertainment close to home.

The Disneyland-inspired theme parks around the country have been around for a while now. Some observers, looking at a lackluster tourist season, are wondering aloud whether the novelty has worn off. They're also wondering whether some other form of entertainment might be more suited to the national taste as the baby-boom crowd begin to gray ever so slightly at the temples.

But Disneyland, and to a lesser extent, Knott's Berry Farm, have been such anchors of economic activity that it's hard to imagine them fading from the scene.

And a lot of people give Disneyland credit for literally putting Orange County on the map. (Some people would give part of the credit to Jack Benny for his line, ''All aboard for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga,'' but that's another story.) Orange Countians find they can get smiles of recognition all over the world by explaining that they live near Disneyland.

Tourism is a big enough business for Anaheim that Mayor Don Roth tells people he has two sets of constituents: the 225,000 residents and the 11 million who visit each year - a figure that matches the 11 million annual visitors Disneyland claims.

It's not all Disneyland, though. There's the Convention Center, already one of the largest and the busiest around, with an expansion expected to be complete this fall.

There seems no limit to Anaheim's ability to absorb new hotels. ''A week doesn't pass when we don't have something new and exciting to report,'' says Mayor Roth, speaking of the hotel boom.

There's also Anaheim Stadium, which brings in nearly 4 million a year, according to operations manager William Turner - 2.5 million for baseball alone, irrespective of how well the Angels are playing. The Los Angeles Rams have also moved into the stadium, which was expanded to accommodate them; their 11 homes games a year are sellouts.

The stadium makes the switch from one sport to the other - very quickly during the early-autumn overlap season - with the aid of movable seats and a hydraulic pitcher's mound. The stadium is known for its clean, efficient operations; before a game, if not immediately after, its cement floors all but gleam. ''The Los Angeles Supervisors come here and drool,'' says Mr. Turner.

The 92 acres of bare asphalt surrounding the stadium are scheduled to become a money machine like the stadium itself. The city is leasing parts of the lot to Anaheim Stadium Associates, a joint venture of the Rams ownership and Cabot, Cabot & Forbes. The lost parking space is to be made up by four-story ''parking structures.'' (as garages are called here). The first phase of development is to be four office towers.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.