The Forgotten Story of Pixieland: The Oregon Coast Amusement Park
Oregon's Pacific coast is home to many things. From tree-topped cliffs to striking rock formations, this scenic wonderland has something for everyone. But once upon a time, it was home to something more. A place of fun and laughter, where lifelong memories were formed. There's no evidence of it left today.
But some say you can still find traces of pixie dust if you know where to look. Our story begins with Jerry and Lu Parks, two childhood sweethearts who were wed in 1935. Both of them had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and in the coming years they worked a variety of jobs and started up numerous small businesses.
With the onset of World War II, Jerry joined the shipyard workers at Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland, which constructed dozens of naval ships for the US amd British navies. Shortly after the war in 1946, Jerry and Lu moved from the big city out to the coast. They purchased a seafood restaurant called the Crab Broiler, which was located at Cannon Beach Junction, near Seaside. Things went well here at first. But it wasn't long before the building burned down, and Jerry and Lu had to rebuild it from the ground up.
They sold the restaurant soon after, and over the next couple of years they moved to Arlington, California, then Denver, Colorado, and then eventually back up to the Oregon coast. In these thriving postwar years, Americans had more disposable income and a rapidly increasing number of automobiles. This ushered in a new era of tourism across the US, and the scenic Oregon coast was no exception. One of the most popular areas was the northern section of the central coast, stretching from Otis to Depoe Bay. This was easily accessible from the population centers inland, and was well-known for its many resorts and recreational areas.
As early as 1950, this stretch became known as the 20 Miracle Miles. Near the top of this was the small town of Wecoma Beach. This is where Jerry, Lu and their two children settled when they returned to Oregon in April of 1952. They had noticed a peculiar restaurant for sale here called the Pixie Kitchen. The building had a cartoonish design. And inside, customers could purchase a variety of pies, pastries and other food items.
The owners had struggled to keep it open, and sold it to Jerry and Lu for $14,000. Jerry later admitted: "I didn't think [Pixie Kitchen] was a good name and I would have changed it." "But the shape of the building, it's built on angles and curves, forced me to stick with it." Despite these doubts, and the poor condition of the building itself, Jerry and Lu worked their hardest to fix things up.
They reopened the restaurant just in time for Mother's Day on May 11, 1952. Using the menu they had retained from the Crab Broiler, they completely revamped the restaurant's offerings with a variety of seafood. Popular dishes included clam chowder, deep fried fish, shrimp, scallops, Crab Louie salad, and lobster. All of the seafood was freshly caught daily and supplied by local fishing boats and markets.
Perhaps even more so than the food itself, the Pixie Kitchen became renowned for its generous portions. Customers were given a spread of complimentary appetizers as soon as they sat down, and if they were still hungry after finishing their main course, the kitchen would serve up additional helpings until their stomachs were full. The Coos Bay World wrote: "You know, if you don't get enough to eat with your order, you just tell the waitress and they finish filling you up free of charge." "Personally, we know people who could bankrupt this place." Fortunately that was never a concern. While the Pixie Kitchen had struggled under its prior owners, the business thrived under Jerry and Lu Parks.
More than anything else though, the Pixie Kitchen gained fame for its fun, kid-friendly atmosphere. Jerry and Lu went all out to decorate the place with cartoony signage and menus featuring the namesake pixies. The characters were designed by Jerry's friend and famed local illustrator, Mo Martindale. He had worked on many ad campaigns for the 20 Miracle Miles, and had recently designed the logo for the minor league baseball team, the Portland Beavers. His signature style was a perfect match for the Pixie Kitchen, and this would carry over into its advertisements, menus and signage. Children loved the small touches, too.
Each dining table had a glass display box built into it, with sand, seashells and miniature pixie figurines. A great example of the restaurant's playful humor was a pair of funhouse mirrors at the front door. When guests entered, they'd be greeted with a skinny reflection and a sign that said, "You look hungry." On the way out, another mirror with a wide reflection would say, "Guess you had enuff."
The Oregonian noted that: "One thing we quickly learned was that Mom and Dad can relax in the Shell Room [cocktail lounge] while a competent waitress serves the kiddies." "This restaurant, when selecting a waitress, demands that she have a genuine liking for children." "This is obviously part of the big secret of the Pixie Kitchen's fabulous success, because we noticed the girls' sincerely friendly manner with the children."
Among these waitresses was Jerry and Lu's daughter, Sharon, who had started working in the prep kitchen and waiting tables at just 11 years old. It was fun. It was just a lot of fun. One thing Dad always let us do was, we could have all the soda pop and stuff we wanted. So we did that, of course. And we could eat whatever we wanted, and... Of course I liked pie and ice cream a lot, but anyway...
The kids were were just, I don't know, everything was family. And we used to take the babies and walk them around. If the baby cried, we just asked the mom if we can, you know, can we just walk the baby? And they'd say, "Sure, take it!" You know, so... And the waitresses were the same ones for years and years and years. So were the cooks. Most of our employees never left.
You know, if we could keep them all winter, we would. We'd find jobs for them and things, so the help was fun. They were all like my, I don't know, my moms I guess 'cause I was the young one. And they all looked out for me, and waiting on kids was a thrill because they were fun, you know? Our whole thing was to make it fun for the kids.
The restaurant's friendly staff and fun theming clearly paid off. Long lines out the door were a daily occurrence, and customers were encouraged to call ahead and make reservations. This steady cash flow allowed Jerry to expand the building multiple times to accommodate more guests. As he later said: "You make people happy and that register takes care of itself."
While business was good, it was also very seasonal. The cold and rainy coastal weather kept most tourists away for a good portion of the year, leaving a peak season of only about five months. Even still, the restaurant was open year-round, and there were never any concerns about paying the bills. In a matter of just a few years, the Pixie Kitchen had grown into one of the most popular destinations on the Oregon coast.
Much of the Pixie Kitchen's success was thanks to Jerry Park's skills as a business promoter, but he was also an active member of his community. He formed countless friendships with other local business owners. And in turn, they happily referred their customers to the restaurant.
The small community of Wecoma, where the Kitchen was located, was right alongside the neighboring town of Oceanlake. By the spring of 1955, officials were discussing plans for Oceanlake to absorb Wecoma. Many residents were skeptical, but Jerry was an outspoken supporter of the idea.
This would give them access to better services, like a new sewer system, which the Pixie Kitchen and other businesses desperately needed. Voters approved the annexation in June of 1955, creating a newly expanded city of Oceanlake. Seeing the impact he could have on his community, Jerry joined the city council and became more involved in local matters.
By the early 1960s, Oceanlake was growing quickly, but so were its neighbors: Delake, Nelscott, Taft and Cutler City. Similar to the Wecoma situation, Oceanlake itself was now being considered as part of a five-way merger into one combined city. While these discussions were going on, numerous improvements were being made to Highway 101 along the coast. The route had originally been completed through Oregon in the 1930s. But by the end of World War II, standards in highway design had greatly improved. Work was soon underway to rebuild numerous sections, making the road straighter, smoother and safer.
One of the most anticipated projects was just north of the Pixie Kitchen, between the communities of Otis and Neskowin. This slow, windy segment would be replaced with a new alignment that would cut five miles off the trip. There is growing speculation that a similar project would detour the highway around the five cities completely. Traffic congestion was notoriously bad through this stretch, so by rerouting the highway along the east side of Devils Lake, drivers could bypass the area without needing to crawl through this string of towns. While it may have been a good idea on paper, this was very concerning to local residents.
Their shops, motels and restaurants relied heavily on tourism, so having the highway pass through their communities was crucial. The Pixie Kitchen itself was right along Highway 101, and Jerry Parks knew the business would be jeopardized if the bypass was built. As his involvement with local matters grew, Jerry decided to run for mayor of Oceanlake. Running unopposed, he was voted mayor on November 6, 1962. It's just the kind of person he was, you know. Mainly 'cause he was political in the sense that he really wanted to see the area grow.
That's probably why he did that, to come up with some ways to advertise and to get... We had... I don't know if you know about the signs coming all the way from Salem and all the way from Portland? He did billboards all the way from Salem, all the way down. Big ones. "You're on your way," "Pixies are ahead." You know, and they were all animated and just terrific signs. And children— - They weren't animated, they didn't move. - I don't mean they moved...
I just mean they were colorful and... And at the bottom of each one, it would say, how many miles more or how many minutes more. And kids... people... The parents always told me, "We didn't want to eat here again, but our kids kept yelling!" "So we had to stop again," you know. Because they always had to eat there because the kids would get so excited reading all those signs. Even as he promoted his own business, Mayor Jerry Parks made several improvements to Oceanlake as a whole.
The city combined its police department and other resources with those of nearby Delake and Taft. This allowed these agencies to run more efficiently while reducing costs. Jerry was also a major advocate for merging the neighboring cities together. He saw this as a way to give the community a stronger collective voice in political matters. In an interview with the press, he said: "I think the chances are very good, I truly do."
"As one city we'll have a solid block of votes and we won't be easy to bypass by the state or federal governments." But even in the midst of his political work, Jerry continued expanding the Pixie Kitchen. The wait times for a table were only getting longer, often 45 minutes to an hour.
Jerry and Lu felt that kids and their parents needed something to keep them entertained while they waited. Jerry had attempted to solve this problem back in the 1950s. He enlisted Mo Martindale to design an elaborate display behind the restaurant, and long-time employee Jim Peters to build it.
This featured moving wooden cutouts of pixies, mermaids, and other characters in a whimsical scene of fun and fantasy. Not only did this entertain families who were waiting for a table, but diners could watch it through the windows while they ate. Needless to say, this backyard display raised the bar for the restaurant's theming, and it was a huge hit with guests.
Now in the fall of 1963, Jerry announced that he would expand on the idea. Using a few acres of land he had recently purchased behind the restaurant, he would soon build a larger amusement area called the Pixie Garden. Meanwhile, the stretch of highway between Otis and Neskowin was finally completed, along with a new interchange with Highway 18. While this improved travel times considerably through this section, it also reignited discussions of the city bypass.
In reality, this project would be several years off, if it ever happened at all. But with everything Jerry and Lu had poured into the Pixie kitchen over the last ten years, they didn't want to take any chances. In 1964, Jerry purchased 57 acres of farmland north of town for $75,000. This property was wedged right in the new intersection of Highways 101 and 18.
Now if the highway was ever diverted away from the Pixie Kitchen, he could move it to this new location and keep a steady stream of customers. By the spring of 1964, good progress had been made on negotiating the merger of the five towns. One unresolved point of contention though was the name of the new city itself. None of the towns wanted to be named after the others, so using an existing name was off the table. To resolve this issue, the North Lincoln News Guard opened up a naming contest.
More than 300 names were submitted for consideration, and a committee selected the five best options: Miracle Beach, Miracle City, Lincoln City, Holiday Beach and Surfland. A few days later, Lincoln City was announced the winner. Voters finally approved the merger, and Lincoln City, Oregon was established on March 3, 1965. With this success finally realized, and with Oceanlake no longer its own city, Jerry Parks happily retired from his role as mayor.
Now with more time to focus on his own ventures again, the 52-year-old entrepreneur looked back at his acreage north of town. Even if he had to move the Pixie Kitchen here someday, there was enough space to build pretty much anything he could come up with. And what he came up with next would be the most ambitious project of his life. When Jerry announced his plans for the new entertainment area behind the Pixie Kitchen, the Capital Journal made an interesting observation. It said: "If the public likes the idea, Parks may eventually expand the Disneyland-type show to cover a big chunk of the 3½ acres behind the restaurant."
"The famous Knott's Berry Farm had a similar beginning." Knott's Berry Farm was a budding amusement park down in Buena Park, California. It had started out in the 1920s as a roadside stand selling berries and pies.
And in the coming years, it grew into a full blown restaurant. To keep guests entertained while they waited, a replica wild west town was built. And by the early 1960s, it also had a narrow gauge railway and an impressively themed mine train ride. Meanwhile, Disneyland was just a few miles down the road in Anaheim. While it shared many similar core concepts with Knott's, it was designed from the ground up to be a major amusement park.
And when it opened in 1955, it set a new standard for how these parks could immerse their guests with elaborate theming. While Walter Knott and Walt Disney had developed similar ideas at a similar time and place, they had a cordial relationship and took inspiration from each other's work. There was no guidebook for how to create these kinds of theme parks.
So they made things up as they went along, and helped define a whole new industry in the process. While the Pixie kitchen was minuscule by comparison, many people saw its potential to be developed into something more. Jerry Parks later said: "I know that the ocean and [the Pixie Kitchen] is not enough." "People ask, 'what will we do at the beach?'" Well, they pick up agates, go deep sea fishing. Then what? Now we want to create more fun things for people to do. By the time he retired from the mayor's office in 1965, Jerry was already dreaming bigger.
Rather than expanding the Pixie Kitchen's backyard display, he would develop an amusement park on his much bigger land plot north of town. He soon took a trip down to California to visit Knott's Berry Farm. Here he studied the park's design firsthand and gathered ideas. While his property in Otis was in a prime location, the land itself was not well-suited for development. It was right in the middle of the Salmon River Estuary, a marshy wetland at the confluence of the river and the Pacific Ocean. This was susceptible to the daily rise and fall of the tides, as well as seasonal flooding of the river.
Making the land suitable for development would be a major project in itself. An old abandoned lumber mill was removed, and Jerry hired construction crews to build a large dike around the property. The water was drained out and the land was filled in. Ponds and canals were dug out for future attractions.
In the fall of 1966, Jerry visited Disneyland to study its revolutionary design and theming. He also visited a newer park called Six Flags Over Texas. Six Flags was one of the first theme parks inspired by Disneyland, but it offered its own unique experience with plenty of local flair. Having gathered his inspiration, Jerry finally made the announcement to the public in November of 1966. Lincoln City would soon be getting a $2 million amusement park of its own, and it would be called Trails End.
Similar to the wild west theme of Knott's Berry Farm, Trails End would take inspiration from 19th century scenes of the Oregon Trail and early settlements in the Pacific Northwest. The Capital Journal pointed out that: "At the same time he wants to get the pixie theme into the complex 'because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars' invested in promoting the Pixie Kitchen." "He admitted tying both the pixie and history theme into one package presented problems." As a result, the concept would be revised over the next several months. By July of 1967, the future park was given the new name of Pixieland. To help lead the project, Jerry enlisted his son-in-law, Howard Walters, who by this time had been married to Sharon for a few years.
And he took me aside and said, "Well, you've been married now for about a year." "If you really expect to be part of the family, I think it's time that you joined the situation and got totally involved." And at the time I was making quite a bit of money. And so I had to decide, it was time to do this. And so I quit my job and...
and we moved down to an area just near the Pixie Kitchen... -Just behind it. - ...and we rented a little house. I had been at Disneyland opening day. So I was familiar with the concept of what he was envisioning. And, you know, what the heck. Let's... let's do it. It's only money.
- And it's only my dad's money. - Yeah. One of the other people Jerry brought onto the project was his long-time friend and famous composer, George Bruns. The two had met while working in the Portland shipyards during World War II.
In the years since, Bruns had moved down to Los Angeles and was hired by Walt Disney in 1953. He would go on to have a long and storied career with Disney, composing the scores to many of his films, television programs, and even rides at Disneyland. Around the time that Pixieland was in development, George Bruns was wrapping up the musical score for the animated feature film, the Jungle Book. He had also just composed the melody for the song, "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" for Disneyland's brand new attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean. Jerry also sought the help of his friend Tommy Walker, who had recently come off a 12-year stint with Disneyland. Walker was the park's producer of live shows and events, including Disneyland's grand opening ceremonies in 1955.
While you might not know him by name, chances are you've heard his famous six-note fanfare at sporting events. Tommy Walker's experience in coordinating large-scale public events would be a great help to the Pixieland project. Not only did the Park have two Disney alumni on the board of directors, but the funding had been sorted out as well. Jerry had spent $150,000 of his own money to landscape the property. And the first phase of the park would be funded by a $250,000 loan from the First National Bank of Oregon.
Likewise, the Pixieland Corporation opened up a half-million-dollar public stock offering. This was offered exclusively to Oregon residents, who excitedly bought up the entire lot of shares in just three weeks. Things were soon ready to get underway, and groundbreaking took place on October 10, 1967. With shovels in the ground and pixie dust in the air, Pixieland was on its way to becoming a reality. As construction for Pixieland got underway, its opening was planned for two phases. Phase One was slated for the spring of 1968, and would feature only a handful of the planned rides and attractions.
Chief amongst these would be a two-foot gauge steam train, manufactured by Crown Metal Products in Wyano, Pennsylvania. This featured a coal-burning scale replica of a Civil War-era steam locomotive, named Little Toot. Much like Disneyland, the Pixieland train would ride around the perimeter of the park. In fact, much of the track was built along the top of the dike that protected the property from flooding. A portion of this loop would be built on a wooden trestle over Pixieland's own RV park.
The wave of tourism in the 1960s had brought the newly popularized trend of recreational vehicles. Sites for campers and trailers were popping up all along the coast, and Pixieland would offer 121 spots for guests to camp right outside the park. This was fully featured with its own playground, rec room, laundry facilities, and an indoor swimming pool. The 11-foot-high train trestle passed over the RV park and led to the station on the second floor of the main depot building. This also housed a restaurant on the upper floor, and a gift shop on the ground floor. In addition to the train, Jerry added other small attractions as well, including a carousel and a few carnival-style kiddie rides.
After nine months of painstaking work, Pixieland opened its gates for the first time in July of 1968. It was just a pretty meager opening. But the... but the restaurant did some business. And the gift shop of course did, because the gift shop was on the lower floor so everybody had to go through the gift shop to get upstairs into the restaurant, to get onto the train.
While Pixieland's soft launch went smoothly, this first operating season would be exceptionally short. The July opening had been later than expected, and the tourist season was cut short by record rainfall in August. Even still, it was able to pull in $40,000, a modest success considering the park was half finished and only fully open for a couple of months. While the park would be closed during the off-season, the train right and the restaurant would stay open year-round.
Work was immediately underway for Phase Two of the park, which would need to be ready by the following spring. Completing the buildings in the mud... I had 60 guys working for me, and the rain never stopped. And in the eight months that it took us to put it together, we had 148 inches of rain. That's 12 feet, four inches.
Some guys just had to quit because of the situation. It was... it was like a war zone. Despite the grueling work, exciting new additions began to take shape.
The biggest of the Phase Two attractions would be a new log flume ride. In the late 60s, log flumes were still a very new concept, with the very first examples only being built within the last few years. The concept was introduced by a powerhouse in the industry, Arrow Development. Their first log flume had debuted in Six Flags in 1963. When Jerry had visited the park three years later, he immediately contracted Arrow to build a log flume for Pixieland. Another major development would be the old west buildings of Main Street.
This was a carryover from the original Trails End concept. Among the attractions here would be a penny arcade, shooting gallery, newspaper print shop, and candlemaker's shop. Nearby would be the large opera house sponsored by Blue Bell Potato Chips in Portland. Here local performers would put on a variety of concerts and stage plays.
Many of these actors were college students from around Oregon, and this provided a fun way for local talent to get involved in the park. A few more kiddie rides were also added in this phase. But perhaps the most elaborate new attraction would be a new dark ride called Grunykinland. Guests would sit in large fiberglass vehicles shaped like bears, and would be taken through dark scenes illuminated by UV lights and fluorescent paint. Animated pixies and other creatures frolicked among the waterfalls and forests of the pixies' homeland. Playing throughout this ride was an original song by George Bruns.
No surviving recordings are known to exist. But the song was described as something similar to Disneyland's "It's a Small World." Grunykinland may have also been inspired by Spee-Lunker's Cave at Six Flags, a similar dark ride full of unusual animated creatures.
Yeah I'm pregnant, nine months pregnant, and Howard says, "Would you come check out... We're going to do our first test run in Grunykinland, and come on down." So I did. And this is the firstborn so, you know,
I don't even know what I'm in for in a few hours. And so I get in Grunykinland and that thing's jerking and moving around and it's dark, and I'm thinking, "This is crazy. I shouldn't be here. I should be in a hospital!" Also new to the park would be a variety of sponsored food stands. Darigold, based in Washington, featured an ice cream parlor made to look like a barn, right alongside the ominously named cheese cave. Soon to be a favorite among guests was a scone shop, sponsored by Fisher's Scones from Seattle.
This rotunda was topped with a giant Scottish tam hat and sold hot scones with jam. One of the most iconic buildings in the park was made to look like a giant hollowed-out log, sponsored by Oregon's own Franz Bread. This served as a place where families could sit and rest with a view of the adjacent log flume. Another popular spot would be the Phillips Candy Kitchen, in partnership with the family-owned Phillips Candies in Seaside, Oregon.
With all these new additions in place, Pixieland was finally ready for its second season of operation, and the first one firing on all cylinders. The park opened to the public on Mother's Day weekend in May of 1969. Among other things, this marked the opening of the very first log flume in the western United States. This even beat out the famous one at Knott's Berry Farm, also designed by Arrow Development, which debuted to the public just two months later. On June 28th, 1969, amidst a downpour of rain, Pixieland celebrated its formal grand opening.
About 500 guests showed up for the ceremonies, where Governor Tom McCall gave a speech dedicating the park to the families of Oregon. Playing at the ceremony was the park's theme song written by George Bruns. The tune was based on the Civil War-era song, "Dixie's Land," with the lyrics being naturally reworked for Pixieland. The song was planned for a record release to coincide with the park's opening in 1969, but this never materialized.
Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any surviving recordings of this song either. While Pixieland took inspiration from other famous theme parks, it displayed an impressive amount of talent and originality. The Statesman Journal said: "it has many of the features of [an] old-time amusement park and much of the flavor of a Disneyland on a smaller scale." "It is a product of the camper-trailer age and will draw much of its patronage from those staying at its trailer park." "It is another example of the development boom which is converting the coast from a hideaway to a resort."
"The Pixieland influence extends further than its operators probably realize." In a way, Pixieland was paying back the community for all the support they had shown Jerry and Lu Parks over the years, And with this brand new landmark on the central Oregon coast, tourism would surely be boosted all over the region. As Pixieland reached the end of its 1969 season, it seemed like the bold experiment had paid off. The park had welcomed 200,000 guests over the course of the summer.
While this was lower than Jerry Parks' projection of 300,000, it certainly wasn't a bad start. For the opening of its third season in 1970, Jerry announced that anyone who brought a bag of highway litter would get ten free rides at Pixieland. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with guests piling up hundreds of bags that held over 19,000 pounds of trash. Toward the end of the summer, Jerry partnered with the Oregon Lions Sight Foundation.
Guests could enjoy an unlimited day-pass to all of the park's rides, and the proceeds would benefit locals in need of treatment. By 1971, the US economy was showing early signs of an economic slowdown, but tourism on the coast was still holding strong. Jerry proudly stated that the "economy hasn't hurt us a damn bit." Whether he was playing things up for the press, or simply just optimistic, the fact was that Pixieland was not drawing in the crowds he had hoped. Up to this point, admission to the park had been free, with guests only paying 5 cents for individual ride tickets.
To help offset the operating costs, Jerry introduced a new admission charge: 35 cents for children, and 50 cents for adults. In addition to growing financial concerns, Pixieland was starting to be cast in a more critical light by environmentalists. Adjacent to the park was Cascade Head, a small mountain that rose directly from the Pacific coastline. This had been a popular hiking spot for decades, but only a portion of it was on protected land.
Much of the surrounding area was privately owned, and the US Forest Service had a growing interest in bringing the entire area into the protection of the Siuslaw National Forest. There was a particular concern for the Salmon River Estuary, which had been damaged by numerous private developments. The newest of these was just across the highway from Pixieland, a 230-acre trailer park called Tamara Quays. The property owner wanted to dredge the Salmon River to make it suitable for boating, which would completely destroy any last remnants of the natural ecosystem. As a result, the efforts of conservationists kicked into high gear to prevent this from happening.
As the Statesman Journal reported: "Those who long for the good old days of Oregon the Beautiful should trek through Cascade Head Scenic Area and up the Salmon River." "What's there? Just about everything that a true conservationist could hope for..." "But the area is feeling the pressure of commercial encroachments that might do untold damage that can never be repaired." Of course, Pixieland itself had played a major role in damaging the estuary.
But as the US Forest Service moved forward with their conservation efforts, they assured property owners that any existing developments would not be affected. The Forest Service started... - Confiscating land... - They were bugging us and they had people on-site doing evaluations, and... These guys were genius at making you think that they were good for you and their whole plan was to steal your property. If this wasn't concerning enough, the Oregon coast was now starting to feel the effects of the economic downturn more strongly.
Tourism was slowing, but the Pixieland RV park introduced a new business model to combat this. In addition to the overnight campsites, they would now offer more permanent spots with affordable 30-year leases. Many people took up the offer, but it wasn't enough to change the course of the park's financial situation. By the spring of 1973, Jerry was negotiating a buyout from an out-of-state agricultural firm. This would give Pixieland some much needed financial stability, but the deal fell through just a few weeks later. At this point, it was public knowledge that the park was not only struggling, but it had never made a profit in the last five years of operation.
Unfortunately, the situation would only get worse. An international oil embargo in late 1973 sparked a historic gasoline shortage in the United States. Many people stopped making the long drive to the coast, and local businesses struggled. Pixieland itself had actually operated a gas station on the property since day one, and like other local stations, they continued to operate on a limited basis. One of the things we had was a gas station out in the parking lot. We we had a railroad caboose delivered to us, and that was the house for the gas station.
And I had my girls dressed up in blue shorts and red-and-white striped tops. And everybody enjoyed buying gas. And these were pretty girls. And that was fine. And then the gas thing hit, and...
we could see the ships that anchored offshore loaded with gas, and the whole thing was political. As these political challenges carried on, Pixieland reached the end of its last full season on September 2, 1974. Immediately after this, crews began taking apart the log flume and train ride, which were both being sold to an amusement park in Utah. This sale would eliminate a good portion of Pixieland's debt and allow it to keep operating for a little while longer. But this would also leave the park without two of its signature attractions. Meanwhile, Oregon politicians pushed for legislation to preserve the natural habitat surrounding the park.
In December of 1974, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Cascade Head Scenic Research Area. Over 9,600 acres of land, including the Pixieland property, were now under the purview of the US Forest Service. They were looking at a topographical map of the region. And they were looking at the map, and somebody finally made some kind of a comment. "What is that square area there?" And some guy said, "I think it's a carnival."
The head guy apparently responded and said, "Well we can't have a carnival in our Cascade Head Area." And he took a pencil and put an X there, and that's where we got... taken out. This change in land management now meant the park's days were numbered. But by this point, it was already on its last legs. Even with rides being sold off, it was still over a million dollars in debt.
By 1975, the dream of Pixieland officially came to an end. What had started as an ambitious goal to build a Disneyland of the northwest had barely limped through seven summer seasons. With the park now closed for good, Jerry Parks stepped down as the president of the Pixieland Corporation. Under its new management, the company set out plans to redevelop the property into something that could actually turn a profit. A US Forest Service report stated that: "The total plan calls for removing the amusement park and adding the following: a 38-unit motel, a restaurant, a commercial center, 18 new apartment units, 22 apartment units that would utilize the existing buildings, 35 mobile home spaces, and a 78-unit townhouse complex.
Given that all new development in the area was essentially banned by federal law, It's unclear how they planned to pull this off. The Forest Service informed the company that if they moved forward with these plans, the government would condemn the land and take ownership of it completely. Despite this warning, the company planned to move forward anyway.
Meanwhile, business had remained fairly steady at the Pixie Kitchen. As a separate business from Pixieland, It was shielded from the financial woes that were happening just a few miles up the road. For the last couple of years, the restaurant had been managed by Jerry and Lu's friend, Harry Smith. with the restaurant in good hands, they sold it to Smith in 1977 and settled into their retirement. By this point, the Pixieland Corporation could no longer pay its taxes and was under investigation by the state.
The US Forest Service offered $500,000 for the property, but the company wouldn't give it up for any less than $1.5 million. By the end of 1978, the Pixieland Corporation had dissolved entirely. The Forest Service acquired the land in the summer of 1980. Neighboring property owners were having their farms and homes taken out from under them as well, which in many cases had been in their families for generations. In a way, this reflected an identity crisis that Oregon was facing on a broader scale. The 1970s had not only seen the rise of environmentalism, but also a surge of new residents and businesses moving to the state.
Protecting Oregon's natural resources was a top priority, but this often came at the cost of economic growth. No one understood this challenge more than Governor Tom McCall. His eight years of leadership encompassed the entire lifespan of Pixieland, and during this time, Oregon saw some of its most progressive new environmental laws. While McCall was widely praised for these efforts, his critics accused him of stifling commercial and industrial development. McCall always made it clear that he supported Oregon's growth, he just wanted it to be done carefully and strategically.
While the Cascade Head project wasn't his work personally, it did leave the community of Otis asking many of the same questions. Should private properties be allowed to damage the natural ecosystem that made the area so beautiful? Was protecting a natural area worth evicting long-time residents from their homes? It wasn't just us. They took all the farmers' land, they took... They took homes. They took all kinds of developments. There was a big development up on Cascade Head with beautiful new homes overlooking the ocean, that all got... I don't know if they ever got to keep their homes. We were not allowed to cut a tree. We weren't allowed to make any...
I don't even think we could paint our house. We weren't allowed to do anything to our home, which was on the hill as well, but not that high up like Cascade Head. We were on Cascade Head. Yeah, well, we were, but we weren't up very high, you know... and the rest of 'em were up on the top. We just... They just took everything.
They took our home and left us in limbo for... I don't know how many years. - We were eight years in Astoria... - It took us 16 years to sell our house. ...to sell our house. Because nobody wanted to get involved with the Forest Service. They were afraid to buy it. They didn't know what that would mean.
So there we were with double house payments for years. While the US Forest Service was snatching up properties left and right, they chose not to bother with the former Pixieland RV park. There were still about 40 residents living there with long-term leases, so this portion of the property was left alone. However, the investment firm that now owned the property shut off the utilities and essentially abandoned the residents on-site. The small community banded together to restore the utilities and fix up the property themselves.
In August of 1982, they were successful in taking collective ownership of the RV park. I got 'em all together and I said, "You guys wanna own this?" "I'll give you each a 30-year lease for a buck." And they just jumped on that. Because I knew that the Forest Service would not want to deal with 121 different people. I just did whatever I could to foul up the Forest Service 'cause they were fouling us up. Meanwhile, right next door, the old buildings and rides of Pixieland were rotting away in the harsh coastal climate.
People snuck onto the property to vandalize the buildings and steal merchandise that had been left behind. The scenes of the abandoned park, at times equally sad and disturbing, stirred a mix of emotions. The buildings were finally torn down a couple years later in 1984. As the Oregonian reported: "The Forest Service is seeking bids to clear away the dilapidated buildings which are overgrown with a tangle of blackberry bushes."
"A make-believe world of arcade games, rides, giant candy canes and melodrama created in 1969 is about to vanish." Improvements were gradually made to the Salmon River Estuary over the next several years. In 1991, the RV park was sold to the US Forest Service, bringing the entire original property into the scope of the restoration efforts. Ecologists were excited about this rare opportunity to restore the estuary wetlands. Many of these habitats in the northwest had already been lost, so being able to reverse the damage to the Salmon River was seen as a major victory. However, the Pixieland property itself would sit virtually untouched for another 16 years.
It wouldn't be until 2007 that substantial work would finally get underway. The first phase would focus on clearing invasive plants and tearing out any remaining infrastructure. The buildings and rides were long gone, but there were still plenty of remnants buried in the brush.
The Oregonian wrote: "Eventually, workers cleared close to 40 acres of blackberries, and secrets began to emerge." "The moss-covered pilings that supported the log flume." "The outline of a swimming pool in the middle of what was the RV park." This work was so extensive that it would ultimately take two years to clear everything out. The next phases took place through 2010 and 2011, where the filled dirt was removed and the dikes were broken down.
After more than 40 years in its damaged state, the tidal marshland could finally begin the process of healing itself. So where exactly did the Pixieland dream go wrong? While it had originally promised to be the Northwest's answer to Disneyland, the weather of the Northwest itself became a key factor in its downfall. With peak visitor traffic only lasting a few months out of the year, Pixieland could never be as successful as theme parks that operated year-round. Another problem was its distance from Oregon's major population centers.
Pixieland was 60 miles from Salem, 80 miles from Portland, and 110 miles from Eugene. Combined with the rising costs and scarcity of gasoline in the 1970s, people were less inclined to make these long, expensive trips. But there were other smaller factors, too. Some people felt that the park stagnated without the addition of any major new attractions. Others simply preferred to spend their time at the beach instead.
The former site of Pixieland today has no surviving remnants, which of course is completely by design. Thousands of drivers pass by this wetland every day, completely unaware of its fascinating past. But two of Pixieland's top attractions are still in operation today. The Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah, has kept the log flume and train in operation since they were brought over from Oregon in 1975. Little Toot is now rebranded as the Wild Kingdom Train, and the log flume is known as... well, the log flume.
While the Pixie kitchen fared much better than the theme park in the 1970s, Its downfall came shortly after in the early 1980s. Times were changing, and the playful pixie theming that once delighted visitors was starting to feel tired and outdated. National restaurant chains had found their way to the Oregon coast, drawing more customers away from the older family-owned businesses. Big grocery stores were now carrying much more fish and crab, edging out small restaurants from being able to buy locally-caught fish. Likewise, labor costs were rising significantly, and many long-time staff members had to be laid off.
Unable to overcome these obstacles, the Pixie Kitchen closed its doors in October of 1982. The owner Harry Smith told the press: "I hope the closure is temporary, as I do not have plans at this time to file bankruptcy for the business." "It is just too big an operation in view of the economic recession." "It will be a shame if Pixie Kitchen is lost to the tourists and residents of Lincoln City." "I sincerely hope that its doors will once again open for business." This did actually come true for a short time.
The restaurant was reopened in 1985 by Michael and Anne Baxter, though it was closed again for the last time in 1987. If you return to the site today looking for joy and wonder, you'll find it in the form of a Motel 6. After Jerry Parks stepped down from the Pixieland Corporation in 1975, he and Lu retired and moved down to California. But within a few years, they moved back north and settled down in Newberg, Oregon. Lu passed away in December of 1989, and Jerry was laid to rest in December of 1993. You might think that their legacy has faded in the decades since, but nothing could be further from the truth.
A dedicated fanbase continues to celebrate Pixieland and the Pixie Kitchen with preserved artifacts, parade floats and community events. The North Lincoln County Historical Museum has an excellent exhibit full of memorabilia. Among other things, you'll find one of the original fun-house mirrors, a scale model of the Pixie Kitchen, and one of the original dining tables. The Lincoln City Kiwanis Club offers a range of reproduction signs, shirts, placemats, menus, and a cookbook full of recipes and stories from Sharon about the Pixie Kitchen. Proceeds from the sale of these items go to serving local causes and supporting children in the community.
From 2017 to 2020, the Kiwanis Club also kept the memories alive with Pixiefest. This annual carnival brought entertainment and fun activities to children and adults alike. Pixiefest is no longer being held, but a smaller version called the Pixie Games is still held periodically at local festivals and events. Yeah, we're continuing the tradition of Pixieland through Pixie Games.
It's a... something for our area out here in the community. Locals and tourists alike love to come out and see the nostalgia and play some games, have some fun, win some prizes. At the same time, where we're allowing people to learn about our history. And so it's it's a lot of fun to teach people and let them have some fun. Well Pixieland was open and operational when we moved here. We had the good fortune to have some of our sons, two of our sons, have birthday parties out there, which was kinda unique... fun place to go...
The log flume was the big attraction, along with the train that went around the entire park. Lots of other activities. Well and they had melodrama out there, and it was just a fun event. The kids were so excited. They just wanted to go all the time. My favorite memory of the Pixie Kitchen are the mirrors. When I used to walk in as a little kid, I would be walking down up into the restaurant and they'd have all these mirrors just all lined up.
And then when you walk in, they're all really... make you look skinny. And then after you eat, you walk out the other side and all the mirrors that were lined up made everybody look fat and tall and really big. What I remember most is I did a lot of advertising for Pixieland. I worked for KBCH Radio at the time.
And every hour, four times an hour, you would hear this... "pixie whistle" come off on the air. People were so irritated with that overall, so... My favorite memory of Pixie Kitchen was taking my son there when he was little. He's now 40 years old. And... he loved it.
I remember the tables, 'cause they had the pixies all over them and he was just thrilled with that. We enjoyed the food. Everything was perfect. Town was quiet. Not like the Kite Festival today. But yeah, I loved it.
Even with all the years that have passed, the lasting impact of Jerry and Lu Parks is undeniable. They found novel ways to make their neighbors' days a little brighter, and created memories to be cherished for a lifetime. And in the end, that's the best kind of legacy we can all hope to leave behind.