Today Los Angeles is known for its enormous but sterile corporate amusement parks: the Disney parks, Universal Studios, and even Knott’s Berry Farm are fun enough, but also uptightly engineered to minimize their owners’ exposure to lawsuits and maximize their visitors’ exposure to a whirling menagerie of brands and advertising and intellectual property. Every once in a while, they’ll take a few years to replace old favorites with new lands to feature new brands (Harry Potter or Cars or Star Wars). But once upon a time, from the early days of the city until as late as the 1970s and ’80s, Los Angeles was home to dozens of more freewheeling amusement parks, where new attractions were added every season and you could ride an alligator, see a macaw on rollerskates, descend into Dante’s hell, watch a Civil War sea battle reenactment, drink free beer, and even get medical care for your baby, in between riding the rollercoasters and eating cotton candy.
In the early Twentieth Century, several amusement parks sprang up (and eventually burned down) on piers along what were then the resort towns of Venice and Ocean Park—where, unlike Los Angeles, drinking and dancing were allowed on Sundays—but the theme parks of the old days were scattered as far as Thousand Oaks, the San Bernardino Mountains, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and there was even a park just south of Downtown LA. Here are the lost locations of 18 of LA’s most spectacular lost amusement parks: