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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: Children’s Fairyland Continues to Be a Magical Fantasy World
Jul 12, 2018
Enchanting children and adults alike for more than 60 years, Children’s Fairyland, locate on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA., is a whimsical 10-acre park where young children can create, imagine, play, and learn all day long.
The year 1948 was a prehistoric era for children’s entertainment. There was no Disneyland or Nickelodeon TV, and most amusement parks catered to thrill-seeking teenagers. The few “kiddielands” in the U.S. included a simple carousel, pony ride, and cotton-candy stand.
Oakland businessman Arthur Navlet had an idea to change all of that. The well-respected nursery owner took his proposal for a storybook theme park, featuring fairy-tale sets, farm animals, and live entertainment, to the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, a group dedicated to civic betterment (and still in operation today). They loved the idea.
With the support of Oakland’s parks superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr., the Breakfast Club and the citizens of Oakland raised $50,000 to build Children’s Fairyland on the shores of Lake Merritt.
Today Children’s Fairyland continues to hold fast to its founding vision — to be a magical fantasy world where young children can create, imagine, play, and learn. The mission is to expose the boundless potential of young children, and its purpose is that visitors to Children’s Fairyland will enjoy many years of “happily ever after.”
With close to 60 storybook sets, kid-size rides, friendly animals, and 10 acres of gardens, Children’s Fairyland is designed to delight visitors of all ages, but especially those under age 8. Come and stroll through the gates — or run through if you’re a child — and discover all that Fairyland has to offer.
Local architect William Russell Everitt designed the original storybook sets. His whimsical creations feature off-kilter walls, bright colors, and — most important — child-size proportions. Many of the sets have been remodeled over the years, but they always maintain the original spirit.
Some of Children’s Fairyland’s best-known, and most-loved, sets include:
* The Old Lady in the Shoe, where everyone who approaches the Fairy Gates is greeted (see pic).
* Talking Storybook Boxes feature keyholes for Magic Keys ($3 at the admission gate) so visitors can listen to the stories in English or Spanish.
* Jack & Jill Hill, a bright green sliding hill that encourages physical and imaginative play.
* The Jolly Roger Pirate Ship from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan beckons older children (and adventurous little ones) into the crow’s nest above the rope ladder. Watch out for the crocodile!
* Old West Junction, completed in 2005, features a livery stable, bank, jail, and water-tower slide. Kids can act out their favorite tall tales in fantasy play.
* The Chapel of Peace gives parents and kids a place to relax. During Fairy Winterland in December, Santa Claus welcomes kids at the Chapel.
* The Alice in Wonderland Tunnel twists and turns to bring young tunnelers into the playing-card maze. Tunnel windows show scenes from Alice’s adventures.
* The Dragon Slide may look big and fearsome but this slippery slope is fun for kids over four. Sorry, no adults!
* Willie the Whale spouts water from his blowhole and invites visitors to climb into his belly.
* Peter Rabbit’s Garden, inspired by Beatrix Potter’s beloved tales, is home to both rabbits and guinea pigs. Stop by and say hello.
* Happy Dragon welcomes kids to climb all over his back as he lounges inside the gates. Pull his tongue to hear a story about Fairyland.
* Fairy Music Farm Tunnel is a 118-foot-long journey of discovery with interactive musical instruments, a landscaped courtyard, and a series of murals showing fairies from different cultures.
Along with the sets, Fairyland’s rides are designed to be colorful, fantasy-filled, and enjoyable for even very young children. Some of the most popular rides include:
* Jolly Trolly: This kid-size train is Fairyland’s oldest ride, installed in 1954. It journeys past Old West Junction and through a tunnel. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
* Wonder-Go-Round: Installed in 1956, the carousel features Alice in Wonderland characters. Children must weigh no more than 90 pounds; children under 36" tall must be accompanied by an adult.
* Anansi’s Magic Web: This mini Ferris wheel, installed in 1975, resembles a spider’s web from the African folk tale. The maximum weight per cage is 90 pounds, and children must be shorter than 54". Sorry — no adults allowed.
* Flecto Carousel: The Flecto Paint Company donated this bright carousel in 1997; it was completely refurbished and rededicated in 2016. Children must weigh no more than 60 pounds and be between 38" and 54"; no adults allowed.
You’ll never find a “thrill ride” at Fairyland, but you will find all sorts of fun and laughter.
Another of the other highlights of Children’s Fairyland is its Storybook Puppet Theater. Here, visitors can watch as classic tales from all over the world come to life. Be sure to catch a performance during your visit to the park. All shows that grace the stage of Fairyland’s Storybook Puppet Theater are original productions, featuring scripts, costumes, music, and sets designed by Fairyland’s talented puppeteers. Don’t miss a chance to watch a production at the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the U.S.
Puppet shows are presented year-round, three times a day (11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.) at the Storybook Puppet Theater. During Fairy Winterland they are presented at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The current production of “Why Mosquitoes Buzz In Our Ears” performs through July 12, to be followed by “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” performing July 13 to August 26.
Animals have also been an important part of Children’s Fairyland since it opened in 1950. Today, more than 15 domestic animals live in the park as visitors can meet the Fairyland menagerie, which includes miniature ponies, goats, rabbits, ducks, sheep, guinea pigs, and chickens.
Fairyland has spent decades inspiring young children, and continues to do so today. As a timeless reminder of the joys of being a child (or a child at heart) it is truly an amazing place to take young kids and let them absorb all the imagination and fun that is here for the taking.
For park hours or more information on Children’s Fairyland, including hosting birthday parties, special events and park rentals, please phone (510) 452-2259 or visit www.fairyland.org.