Nestled in a wooded grove not far from the gangs of ducks & geese that troll Oakland’s Lake Merritt is Children’s Fairyland, a haven for lil’ people and the lucky parents & guardians that can accompany their kiddies. Tomorrow it just so happens is Fairyland’s 56th birthday, and although the wee ones still smile whle riding the train and eating a corn dog, one can see the wear and tear that the years & over 10 million visitors have brought upon the park. Proposals to use public funds are currently ciculating that hopefully can restore some areas of the park like the creepy & currently closed Thumbelina Tunnel to it’s original opening day shine.
Considered the first theme park exclusively for children in the country,(if not the world), it was built with $50,000 raised by various local organizations and business donations. 6000 people were admitted on opening day, admission being from 9 to 14 cents, depending on your age, and your guides were apparently a glamorously garbed Munchkin-esque couple, (actually two local married midgets). Children could even mail a letter postmarked at the Fairyland Post Office.
Lore has it that Walt Disney himself soon came through Mother Hubbard’s Shoe and picked up some ideas and inspiration for his much more ambitious theme park that opened in Anaheim a few years later. But there’s no doubt that Oakland’s came first, and was definitely still in Walt’s scheming mastermind when in April of 1952, he submitted his first vague plans for a similar Souhern California ‘Fairy Land’ to the California Parks and Recreation Commision.
Today, Disney is of course a diversified multi-national conglomerate, while our humble Children’s Fairyland is run off donations to a struggling local non-profit. Even with no marketing budget, the site consistently features a multi-cultural mass of happy kids scrambling up and down the many paths, and the concrete stairs of it’s numerous attractions from 10 am until at least 4pm daily, (a lil’ later on weekends). Located in Lakeside Park, it’s a neighbor of the beast at 699 Bellevue Ave, Oakland CA. Look for the big shoe… and keep on clicking if you’d like to help out or learn a lil’ more history of this jewel with it’s on Jolly Roger pirate ship, in an oft overlooked urban oasis of the East Bay…