It might be hard to believe now, but not too long ago, what stood in place of the sprawling Jantzen Beach Center on Hayden Island was a great North American amusement park.
But for many of the 30 million visitors who came to Jantzen Beach Amusement Park during its 42-year history, it feels like yesterday.
The Jantzen Beach Amusement Park opened on May 28, 1928. The park reached the height of its popularity right after World War II, when it welcomed about three-quarters of a million people a season.
During hot summers, the four pools were arguably the main attractions. Visitors to the park could enjoy a wading pool, Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 10-foot diving board, slides and more. The park could accommodate 2,000 swimmers a day.
However, in the 1940s, not everyone was allowed to swim. Before the passage of the Public Accommodations Act of 1953, African-Americans were excluded from many places in Oregon, including the Jantzen Beach pools.
As well as the pools, there were more than 28 rides including a fun house, a tunnel of love, bumper cars, and the iconic Big Dipper. Many still think of the wooden roller coaster as the park’s main attraction. The Big Dipper filled some riders with joy and others with terror.
Derek Thompson I think I was maybe 8 years old; we were on a family outing there. Along with us was my older sister’s good friend and next-door neighbor. I had a little boy crush on her. … She wanted to ride the bullet and asked me to ride with her, which I did. I was a tiny kid and she was much bigger than me so the bar only held her down to the seat and not me. … No matter, though — I was riding with Beverly! That thing began to rise and turn and spin, and I began to be lifted off the seat with nothing keeping me in except my little hands. … I was terrified; I was screaming as loud as I could; I was crying. When it finally stopped, I jumped out and ran as fast as I could, as far away from that monster as I could get. I heard my dad and mom and my grandmother calling for me to come back. No way! … They didn’t help me when I was on it, how could they help me now? I ran and hid in the picnic area until they had to get park security officers to help find me in a fetal position back in the corner under the last picnic table. I’ve been terrified of rides ever since then.
There was also the beautiful merry-go-round designed by “amusement king” Charles Wallace Parker, who was famous at the time in the amusement park business.
Jantzen Beach Park was also a place to dance. It had the Golden Canopy Ballroom that could hold 4,000 dancers at a time. It attracted local musicians and big-name jazz bands like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.
Jantzen Beach was also home to a few disasters including the Vanport Flood in 1948. Although the park survived, its attendance never reached pre-flood levels.
In 1960 a fire that started in the Tunnel of Love ended up destroying the Fun House and Old Dutch Mill.
Facing tragedies and dwindling attendance, the park eventually closed its doors after Labor Day weekend in 1970. Its famous carousel was saved and in 1995, it was fully restored and moved inside the Jantzen Beach Center. However, the carousel has since been closed to the public and placed in storage. The issue has ignited some Oregonians to demand it be brought back.
In the 44 years since the park’s closure, the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park still evokes powerful memories for many who visited. Do you have one? Share below! Or join the live conversation on Think Out Loud, Thursday August 14 at 12 p.m.