Friday, March 2, 2018

The Islands of Knott's (Part II)

Jungle Island at Knott's Berry Farm. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Shortly after grading land at Knott's Berry Farm for use as an amazing South Seas Island Boat Ride, theme park legend Bud Hurlbut abandoned the tiki theme for the boat ride. Either on his own, or under advisement from Russell or Walter Knott, Bud decided that another "Old West" type ride would suit Knott's Berry Farm better.  Other than some Hawaiian-style patio decor for sale in the Basket Shop, Knott's didn't have much of anything that evoked the South Pacific.

So it was that plans for the South Seas Island Boat Ride were transformed into plans for the Northwest Fur Trapper Boat Ride. It was essentially the same ride, but with different set dressing and no flow of "red hot lava" to simulate.
Concept painting by Mentor Huebner for the Northwest Fur Trapper Boat Ride. Note the incongruous Polynesian island motif still depicted on the far shore of the lagoon. Image courtesy Christopher Merritt.
But beyond some attractive concept art by Mentor Huebner and some additional design work by Dick Bagley, the Northwest Fur Trapper project also went nowhere. The "dry islands" continued to sit unused.

Bud and his crew at Hurlbut Amusement focused on making improvements to the mine ride, and on a variety of new projects -- some of which came to fruition and some not.  There were unrealized plans for a monorail with 2,000 feet of track, and plans for a variety of attractions that were built near the farm's seal pool.

However, in 1963, there were new signs of life across the highway. With no progress evident on the boat ride, John Holland -- an employee of Knott's stagecoach concessionaire Bill Higdon -- suggested using the boat troughs as the pathway for an outdoor "Tallyho Ride," where guests would be taken past scenes of animated woodland animals and deserted pioneer wagons in a horse-drawn Omnibus.
Concept model for Overland Trail, 1963. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
The Overland Trail Ride, as it was known, opened on June 5, 1964. It was about seven minutes long and took guests "through the enchanted area and past a sizable desert scene." It seems Bud was skeptical about its future.

Indeed, the Overland Trail Ride only lasted a few years. But it seemed to ensure that the boat ride plan would never rise again. 
Overland Trail Ride at Knott's, 1964. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
At about that same time, the small paddle-wheel steamboat Hurlbut originally intended to have circling the entire South Seas Island Lagoon, was completed. It would have served something of the same purpose as the old Mike Fink Keelboats at Disneyland. But with no water in the South Seas Lagoon, the steamboat Cordelia K (named for Walter Knott's wife) was put to use in a small manmade lake also on the property.
The Cordelia K paddle-wheeler. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
But at the same time, the adjacent Jungle Island -- which Hurlbut had abandoned -- was about to live up to its promise. Walter Knott had hired landscaper and folk artist Forrest L. Morrow, Sr., of Elgin, Illinois, to restore the old "Catawampus" wooden animal  which was displayed in his Ghost Town. Knott was pleased with the restoration work and he invited Morrow to bring his "Wood-imals" to the Farm.
Forrest Morrow carving one of his Wood-imals: "a completely unique race of 'Natural-Art' creatures in a fantastic Jungle setting." Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Morrow's Wood-imals were fanciful depictions of various animals (and occasionally people) made from twisted and gnarled tree branches and stumps.

It was decided that Morrow would populate Jungle Island with his Wood-imals and operate it as a children's playground with a 25-cent admission fee. Finally, the portion of the Lagoon immediately around Jungle Island was lined with gunnite and filled with water, the existing tropical landscaping was supplemented, and Morrow moved himself and his family to California to run the operation. At the time, he was 77 years old.
Map of Jungle Island, courtesy Orange County Archives.
Jungle Island opened May 2, 1964. A brochure distributed at that time stated, "The island is managed by Mr. and Mrs. Morrow, their daughter, Evalee, and her husband, James F. Webb. The two Webb children, Johnny, 11, and Hillary, 16, often help out after school hours and in vacation periods, while one of the Morrow grandsons, Bobby Eggler, the photographer of the family, takes publicity pictures of the Wood-imals as their tribe increases." It went on to state that Morrow's work had previously been displayed in "New York's Long Island, Wisconsin's Dells, forest preserves, restaurants, Santa's Village [in Dundee, Illinois] and private estates all over the mid-west. Recently, the Chicago Park District ordered Wood-imals for flower shows and the chidren's zoo..."
Evalee Webb, Walter Knott and Forest Morrow at Jungle Island, circa 1964. Photo courtesy Stack’s Liberty Ranch.
Theme park historian Christopher Merritt wrote, "Jungle Island was more than just the Wood-imals scattered about. It was a dense, Jungle-like area where a kid could get lost, and dirty, and be adventurous with minimal parental supervision. My fondest memories of Jungle Island are in the 1970s, when my brother and I would get dropped off there... It was kinda like 'Knott's lite.'"
Entrance bridge to Jungle Island. Postcard courtesy Orange County Archives.
But like most of the concessions located across Beach Boulevard  from the main portion of the farm, Jungle Island struggled financially. Still, it survived for almost two decades.

However, in 1982, Knott's new C.E.O., Terry Van Gorder, who had wrested artistic control from the Knott family, decided that Jungle Island had to go. In 1983 it was turned into a park like "nature area."
Lush, tropical, silly Jungle Island.

[Ed - A certain blogger once visited the nature area as a lad and was yelled at by "one of the Knott girls" for swordfighting with his friends using fallen bamboo poles from the landscaping.]

Eventually the nature area was turned into an area for corporate parties and events. The small lagoon bordering part of Jungle Island still remains, as does some of its tropical landscaping. Coincidentally, the large picnic shelters constructed in the 1980s were designed with a Polynesian look.

Current corporate picnic area at Jungle Island/Knott's Lagoon. Photo by author.
Just to the north of Jungle Island, the planned site of the South Seas Island Boat Ride is now another corporate picnic area, called "Gold Rush Camp." The slightly rolling terrain still hints at how Hurlbut once carved the land to fit his vision.

Why Bud never built his elaborate South Seas paradise remains a mystery. But by looking at the remaining evidence, and by knowing his innovative and impressive work on the Mine Ride and Log Ride, we can be sure we missed out on something very special.
Another view of Jungle Island. Postcard courtesy Orange County Archives.
(Click here to see Part I of this article.)


  1. Your wood-imal pictures jogged my memory, I definitely remember visiting Jungle island at least once during the 70's as a kid. I wish I remembered more. I was too young to appreciate the wood-imals at the time, but very much liked the shade and trails to explore. I'm fairly certain we also visited Independence hall on that visit as well. I would have been around 8 or 9 years old at the time.

  2. I'm working on a project about the Catawapus and I'm wondering what the origins of it are. I know Knott's website says it was originally near a lumber storage shop of Walt and Swartz but it doesn't say who actually made it and when.. do you have any further info on that?

    Also, can I used images on this page if I give you credit and link back? It's for a YouTube video. Thanks, Jason