Sunday, May 6, 2012

History Erased

Three weeks ago, I learned from The Coaster Guy that the Six Flags Magic Mountain memorabilia in the Sky Tower had been completely removed, including the framed awards on two walls, bringing it back to its original form of people just riding the elevator up and looking at the view from all sides. I'm disappointed, because this was the one place in the Santa Clarita Valley where history was alive. History here is usually sad and decrepit. It has meaning, but it's not quite there because it always feels like regret. I know that people have history that they're not too proud of, but if we're talking the history of a place, the history of a valley, there should be more. And the Sky Tower Museum did have more. I agree with Kurt, the proprietor of the site, that it "was a great idea, but I don’t think it was executed very well." He's right on that count. The memorabilia was there, and so was that feeling of history being necessary. There were costumes and props and decommissioned seats from rollercoasters that didn't need those seats anymore, or didn't need to be a rollercoaster anymore. It was a random assortment, though. No chronological order, no theme. No section for rollercoasters, and then stage shows or outdoor shows, and then the overall park, such as it would be with maps from the 1970s. What Six Flags Magic Mountain should have done is train the employees in the history of the park. No tests or anything like that; just make sure that they can speak confidently enough about the history and answer any questions. In fact, they should have had a few sheets detailing questions most likely to be asked in the Sky Tower Museum.

If Six Flags Magic Mountain was run by a company that still cared about its history like Knotts Berry Farm is in Buena Park (a town heavy with the ghosts of its history, but not as gloomy as that sounds), they could consult former employees who might still be in touch with others throughout that division of the company, or known historians, and create exhibits that give people a full view of what the park was like back then. Have those former employees from long ago and those historians come up with a program that's palatable to the average visitor, and still detailed enough for the devoted fan. This is how the Sky Tower could have been best used, and with the benefit of that panoramic view, docents (as in paid employees that wanted this position) could point out where certain areas used to be and where the dolphin shows had been, and whatever else visitors might have wanted to know.

But would it have worked? Would there have been enough visitors to justify such a venture? Idealistically, I would hope so. But realistically, I'm not sure. Visitors who live in Santa Clarita just want the rides, and to get out of the heat for a little while during those months. Tourists want to see the park, and try to understand how in the heck people could simply walk up that huge frickin' Samurai Summit without either pulling something or collapsing from exhaustion, but on a not-too-steep incline so they don't roll down the hill. I would hope, even realistically, that mixed into those crowds are those interested enough in the history of place, to wonder what the park had been before its current incarnation, to try to imagine the park from the Sky Tower without all those rides, without those shows, without those food stands, and without the Sky Tower, imagining all that emptiness before it began to be filled in.

In the comments section of Kurt's post, he says that the artifacts were moved to Level P1, which is the "floor of the tower under the museum," now meaning under the panoramic view. It's amazing what's actually contained within the tower, as Kurt wrote in the early days of his blog:

"It stands 385 feet tall, has two observation decks around the 300 foot mark, and is serviced by two elevators. It can even be configured as a restaurant with the dining area on one floor and the kitchen on the other. Magic Mountain uses it as merely an observation deck, however they did furnish it with some historical park memorabilia in 2008 after a park employee suggested they create some sort of a museum."

Configured as a restaurant. Is the kitchen even up to code anymore? If they were to go that way, would they have to upgrade the equipment? This is what I'd want to know and also want to know if the dining configuration was ever used for any events. I'm sure it was, but these are the details that could have kept the Sky Tower Museum going.

Today, we four went to the Walmart on Kelly Johnson Parkway, the one that overlooks Six Flags Magic Mountain from a distance. Through willowy trees that have grown tall and bend airily in the wind, you can see the Superman: Escape from Krypton tower, as well as the Sky Tower. Superman: Escape from Krypton is having Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom added to it, which means clamping two separate tracks on each side of the tower, as a freefall kind of ride, or a drop tower ride, as they say. Who's they? Rollercoaster and theme park enthusiasts. I trust their word.

After we parked, I looked out at Six Flags Magic Mountain, at the Sky Tower and thought about that post with great regret. This is not a valley that's known for its history because it constantly presses on. We have to keep moving, we have to embrace the future, and then we have to discard that part of the future that has become the past and chase after the new future. Then the new new future. And, oh look! The new new new future!

One of the worst things happening to the Santa Clarita Valley, though few notice since it's financially in the crapper and wouldn't be if more people subscribed (though there's nothing worth subscribing for), is that the weekend Escape section of The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of this valley, has been cut down to 7 pages, which is basically nothing. I know. I worked with 16 pages when I was the interim editor and there was a lot more to play with. 7 pages in this edition is movie listings, an AP movie review of The Avengers by Christy Lemire (or at least I think it was The Avengers, though it doesn't matter), a few paragraphs from Chuck Shepard's News of the Weird, which is also part of the AP wire service for newspapers to use, and that's it. Nothing else. Nothing about this valley, and nothing about what's going on in this valley. Nothing to tell about its history, nothing to tell about anyone who might be doing something with its history, like a lecture or something. It's sadly a reflection on this valley because it is that shallow. Most who live here work in Los Angeles, and don't want to live in Los Angeles, so they come back here after work. This valley is the true definition of a bedroom community, minus "community," because there's no sense of one anywhere in here. Some people try, and I admire them for it, but it seems like a futile effort. How can it be done when L.A. is only half an hour south? L.A.'s not so great with its history either, as I learned from Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano. A lot of whitewashing of history on Olvera Street, and a harkening back to the good old pueblo days, which didn't actually exist. History is only useful there if it's beneficial. Otherwise, what history?

Also in Arellano's fascinating history tour, I learned about San Bernardino, "about sixty miles east of Los Angeles," which was starting to become "America's fast-food incubator." Taco Bell began in the L.A. suburb of Downey in 1962. I read something about Anaheim in here, but I can't find it. While reading that section, I thought about Anaheim and Buena Park, and how both retain their history in many forms. They may not pay a great deal of attention to it, but they don't ignore it, they don't shun it, and they aren't ashamed of it. In the years before we began to be set on Las Vegas as our next and final residence (once I'm there, I'm not moving. It's where I belong and I don't think any other city in America would fit me so comfortably as Las Vegas does), I think I would not have been so angry toward the vapidity of the Santa Clarita Valley if I had studied Anaheim and Buena Park closely. I wrote about Buena Park in late January 2010, and I still feel the same about it. It's there for those who seek its history. It's not trying to be something it never was. Anaheim fascinates me because even though it would seem that there's nothing else outside of Disneyland, it feels like it has its pockets of history. All those past lives and past dates and past events are part of its fabric. It absorbed them and gained character from them. Whenever we went to the now-unfortunately-closed Po Folks in Buena Park, I always got a copy of the Orange County Register. The paper has always covered Orange County extremely well, but what interested me the most was Jonathan Lansner, the Register's real estate writer. How could anyone be interested enough in real estate to write about it? I can't understand it, but people are interested in it, and Lansner always writes about it so well, making such clear sense out of all the numbers. I wondered who Lansner is when he's away from the Orange County Register, what got him interested in real estate. History has always been accessible in Orange County. It takes some time to find, I'm sure, but it's there. There's no fear of being seen as old, as seems to be the mentality in Los Angeles and Santa Clarita. Perhaps that's why history is hidden or erased, as it felt upon seeing the photos of that empty Sky Tower floor and walls.

Then on Saturday, while Mom, Dad, and Meridith were out, remembering that Escape section, I thought about what I would have done to revive the section, if there was management willing to make it vibrant again, getting rid of the monotony that has poisoned it. I thought about more stories of community events, profiles of people with different hobbies, including gardening because that's always been interesting to me as an observer. Articles about Santa Clarita's history that include interviews with those who have lived that history or have studied it well. As much as I loathe this valley and will happily never go back to it once I'm gone, it needs this. It needs this attention. The entire area always looks so dry, and that's not because of the weather. It's because no one wants to try to prop it up, to give it life. It's the bedroom community mentality. The major flaw in my "plan," is finding writers who can write and are passionate about this valley, who don't mind being paid the pittance that The Signal barely offers. A new owner would be an improvement, but only if it was someone first rich enough, and secondly who has lived in this valley for decades who actually loves it and wants to see it made better, more active. This shouldn't just be a bedroom community. This is where people live, and I've heard that there are people who live here who have never left this valley. I take it to mean that they've never driven out to L.A. or Burbank or Pasadena or Anaheim or Buena Park, but I find that absolutely impossible. Considering what's offered here, how could they find anything to do? The library only goes so far.

I wish for more for this valley. As awful as it has been to me, I really do. But whereas Buena Park's ghosts remain, and its history is always there, Santa Clarita is heavy with apathy. It's there. People just want to do their necessary errands, eat wherever the booze is good, go to a movie, get out of this valley on a Friday night, and that's it. They get what they put into it. Maybe Anaheim and Buena Park are just more interesting because they're removed from Los Angeles and Hollywood by extension. They have their own distinct identities because of that. They're not clawing and yowling for the power of media. They are who they are, in all that they offer. At least history exists somewhere in Southern California.


  1. Very interesting article, Rory. I was unfamiliar with your site until you linked to my blog, but it sounds like you and I share a lot of common feelings with regards to the SCV. I can't wait to dig around your site and do some more reading.

    -Kurt Dahlin
    aka The Coaster Guy

    1. It's an honor, Kurt! Although I am pretty much a lurker at your site, I have read every single entry. You are the only truly reliable resource for news about Six Flags Magic Mountain and its history. I have read scathing reports about the atrocious condition of the park, and while I have seen it, it doesn't bother me so much. It feels separate from, and therefore out of the way of, Santa Clarita, and it's truly a welcome escape from this valley for those times when it doesn't feel necessary to leave this valley for Burbank or other locales for the day, which is pretty much what it takes. You have to take the day in order to go wherever Santa Clarita's influence remains out of reach.

      While reading your most recent trip report, I was amazed at the carvings in the stucco of those who built the Goliath queue building. I'm always curious about who designed buildings, constructed them, and so forth, and where they are now, what they're building now. So that was pretty special to me.

      I'm probably one of the few proponents of Pistachio Park. I don't mind the pirate ship sailing over it every few minutes. It's truly peaceful to me, and I always have this yen the next time I go to Magic Mountain to bring a book with me and just sit there and read. Of course, that would probably fit better if I had a yearly pass, which I had thought of getting in past years, but my family (parents and sister) and I always seemed to be getting closer to moving to the Las Vegas area, and so I never did. I regret it now. But even so, after the double knockout of Apocalypse and then Colossus later in the early evening of one of those holiday toy drive days there (free admission, of course), I decided to retire my love of riding rollercoasters. That was the first and last time I rode Colossus, and Meridith, my sister, screamed loudly next to me after we started dropping from that first dip. When we climbed, and I saw below, I called out, "Oh shit!" That was it for me. If I happen to go back before we move, I might ride Ninja (since it feels at times like gliding through a forest), but that would be it. Hence Pistachio Park, and that pleasant peace. Oh, and probably the carousel too and of course a peek inside the souvenir stores. The more Superman shirts, the better.

      I hope you continue to visit my blog. I've got a deep archive, so there's a lot to read. I check your site every day, sometimes just looking at the photos of your latest trip report again. And I thank you for bringing some measure of history to the Santa Clarita Valley, separate as Six Flags Magic Mountain is from it.