Closure of Heritage Amusement Park marks end of an era

'Something of yesteryear' attraction closes as part of recent arbitration agreement

Posted 6/27/18

It was a small amusement park — one of the last few remaining in the country. But for what it lacked in size, Heritage Amusement Park made up for it with big memories. “Looking back, I wonder how …

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Closure of Heritage Amusement Park marks end of an era

'Something of yesteryear' attraction closes as part of recent arbitration agreement

Posted

It was a small amusement park — one of the last few remaining in the country. But for what it lacked in size, Heritage Amusement Park made up for it with big memories.

“Looking back, I wonder how much of my childhood allowance was spent at that theme park,” said Laura Powers, 25, who was born and raised in Golden. “Probably a lot of it, despite all of our tricks to get free things. There were some summers that my friends and I would walk to Heritage Square every day.”

After about 20 years in business, owner Alan Bader will permanently close Heritage Amusement Park and the Garden Grill restaurant on June 30.

The amusement park and restaurant are the last remaining components of Heritage Square, a longtime entertainment and tourist destination at 18301 W. Colfax Avenue.

“I'm going to miss seeing all the kids having a good time,” Bader said. But it wasn't just about the children, he added. The parents “remember it from when they were a kid, and it takes them back. The attractions are different, but the experiences are probably similar.”

The amusement park was like something from yesteryear to people, Bader said. It was a pay-as-you-ride system with no admission or parking fees, rarely were there long lines for any of the rides and families could bring their own picnic lunches.

“People who enjoyed the park felt like they had something that nobody else had,” Bader said.

The closure follows various disputes during the past two years between Bader and the property's landlord Martin Marietta.

Martin Marietta did not respond to media inquiries about the amusement park closure, but spokesman Peter Bovis issued the following statement in October of last year:

“The amusement park demanded an arbitration of issues under its lease with Martin Marietta. Martin Marietta responded with its own claims to be arbitrated. Those issues are now being resolved in a private arbitration process, so Martin Marietta is not free to comment further on the issues or the process.”

Bader noted the issues have since “been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

“We certainly had our differences in the past,” Bader said, “but the settlement was good for both parties.”

Cancellation of the leases for the Garden Grill and Heritage Amusement Park — which previously had lease options until 2039 — was part of the settlement.

Martin Marietta announced its plans to close the commercial portion of Heritage Square in February 2015 and by the fall most of the businesses had closed.

The popular Alpine Slide operated for 37 seasons before it closed. The Golden Optimists — a nonprofit volunteer-run bicycle recycle program — operated out of Heritage Square for about 20 or 25 years. It has since relocated to the Connections Learning Center, 1200 Johnson Road, in Golden.

“It was incredible having a safe, clean area nearby that they (children) could wander and explore, spending their pennies at Notz Landing or Aspen Lee,” said Laura Powers' mother Jill. “It was a perfect place for kids and families, and I cherish the memories. It's so sad that future generations will not have this same experience.”

A magical history

Before it became Heritage Square, the theme park was called Magic Mountain. It was designed by Marco Engineering of Los Angeles — made up of former Disneyland employees. However, it went bankrupt and was only open from 1957 to Labor Day weekend in 1960, said Bob McLaughlin, an amusement park historian and author of “Magic Mountain,” a book that recounts the history of the theme park.

Heritage Square opened in 1971, boasting a Victorian-themed shopping village and the Heritage Square Opera House, among other attractions. The opera house later became the Heritage Square Music Hall and home to the Heritage Square Children's Theatre. Both the Music Hall and the Children's Theatre closed in 2013. However, in 2015, the Children's Theatre started again at Miners Alley Playhouse in downtown Golden.

“Heritage Amusement Park's closing is a sad ending to a dream born over 60 years ago,” McLaughlin said. “It's been quite a roller coaster ride. The amusement industry is a tough business, particularly when the land becomes more valuable than the business it occupies.”

Martin Marietta bought Heritage Square in December 2011 and demolition of many of the buildings began early 2016. 

Of the remaining original elements worth saving, Rick Gardner, a Golden and Jefferson County historian, points to the entrance trestle and particularly the Aspen Lee store.

“This building was the iconic landmark of the place — the signature building used in publications. It's a very unique Storybook-style landmark,” Gardner said, “and a most unique piece of American history.”

He added it can be preserved in place or its removable tower and facades could be taken down and placed on a new frame elsewhere.

Bader began his career at Heritage Square when he took over the Garden Grill restaurant in 1998. He opened the amusement park in 1999 with four kiddie rides. By its closing date, it boasted about 20 attractions including an arcade, three go-cart courses, a Ferris wheel and other adult rides, bumper boats, paddle boats and a zip line.

It may be possible to relocate the amusement park, but it's not probable, Bader said, adding he would have to work with someone or an organization that “understands its benefit to the community.”

“Almost anything is more profitable than an amusement park,” Bader said.

Heritage Square was a place where families “could ride, play, act, eat, shop, visit, bring friends, make memories, watch plays, listen to music, witness shootouts of the Old West, even get married,” Gardner said.

“It has been a big piece of the heart of Golden,” he said. “As an historian I will always call Magic Mountain a successful failure. For it failed at becoming the next Disneyland but succeeded at achieving its ultimate goal of making families happy. It had ultimately succeeded in doing just that for half a century.”

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