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Remembering Frontier Village

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IF YOU THOUGHT Palo Alto never recovered after losing the Barbie Museum, well, San Jose never really recovered after losing Frontier Village. The San Jose Preservation Action Council (PAC*SJ) will hold its sixth annual Preservation Celebration Saturday by honoring Frontier Village—that fine family amusement park at Monterey and Branham that shut its doors on Sept. 28, 1980. Yep, it's been 25 years—almost to the day—since that place bit the dust.

For those who weren't there, it was a Western-style theme park with all sorts of cowboy-and-Injun activities going on. Gunfights in the streets. Horses. Stunts. Buildings made of lumber. All sorts o' malarkey. You'd see mock shootouts with guys falling off roofs and crashing through windows—the whole nine yards. Celebrities who visited the place included Lorne Greene, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Tennessee Ernie Ford and vice-presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, as well as Epstein and Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter.

What happened? I hear you ask. The place was eventually sold off to developers. Yep, same old story. According to Frontier Village historian Elliott Fong, "The legal hassles with the nearby homeowners, the skyrocketing San Jose land value, plus increasing competition from the new Marriott's Great America in nearby Santa Clara that opened in 1976 all put the squeeze on little Frontier Village." It was yet one more example of destroying important parts of local history in order to build hideous condos. Frontier Village just couldn't survive, and the entire park was auctioned off piece by piece. Nowadays, in addition to the condos, Edenvale Garden Park sits on part of the locale where Frontier Village used to be. If you walk around the surrounding area—right near Hayes Mansion—you can still visualize parts of where the village used to be. If you were there, of course.

The PAC*SJ hoedown takes place at History Park, 1650 Senter Road, from 5 to 10pm Saturday (Sept. 24). There will be barbecue, country & western music, square dancing, trolley rides, cowboy trick roping, children's games, auctions and artifacts from Frontier Village. Tickets are $10 for kids and $65 for adults. (It's a dinner/fundraiser thing.) But, thankfully, no one will be acting like an adult for this celebration. Frontier Village was a gosh-darn great place where thousands of little tykes got their kicks. I remember the stagecoach and Indian Jim's Canoe Ride like it was yesterday.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the place is at an incredible website called Remembering Frontier Village (www.frontiervillage.net), which includes hundreds of photos, stories, histories and even RealVideo versions of Frontier Village TV commercials from 1978. Yes, there are folks out there who actually collect Frontier Village memorabilia. They even have regular annual picnics, the most recent of which was last June. The site is an incredible piece of archival work.

So forget about crawling through your favorite antique shop in search of Frontier Village postcards, brochures, plates, cups or ticket stubs. These lunatics have acquired pretty much everything that's left from those days. In fact, when the park finally closed, souvenir pieces of dirt from the place were sold off to village enthusiasts to keep the memories alive. The documentation for the souvenir read "Over seven million visitors have trodden over the souvenir soil contained in the attached packet." Edward E. Hutton Jr., then president of Frontier Village, offered the following guarantee: "I hereby certify that the attached earth is 99.99 percent pure Frontier Village dirt, collected at Frontier Village during the last Round-up season, summer 1980." Also, every employee who finished the season was rewarded with a special Last Round-up T-shirt. It brings tears to your eyes, folks.

Small business owner Mat Lindstedt calls himself the "memory and document dude" for Frontier Village, and he originally helped collect all the artifacts for the website. "I got ahold of the owner and founder of the park, Joe Zukin, and he actually gave me his entire collection of stuff," he explains. "He had boxes and boxes and boxes. I've spent the last three years archiving and cataloging everything."

Lindstedt says he gets emails every day from people all over the world about Frontier Village. "They email me and say, 'Oh, yeah, I used to love that place. I used to go there as a kid,' and other stuff. Even 25 years later people still love that place."

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From the September 21-27, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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