Peralta Playland (1950 – 1968) was a small amusement park along the channel between Lake Merritt and the estuary next to the Kaiser Convention Center. It included a miniature steam train called the Oakland Acorn, a paddle boat called Lil’ Belle [sic], a rocketship simulator called the Star Flyer, and various permanent rides, as well as seasonal attractions like pony rides. Other rides included Bulgy the Whale, the Kiddie Ferris Wheel and the Circus Carousel. A 1953 article says attendance in 1952 was approximately 450,000 people over the year.
An Oakland Tribune article from Friday, July 3, 1964 says:
The ponies will be a part of Peralta’s exciting Topsy Turvy Train Robberies once more on the Fourth, [Oakland Park Commission Chairman] Frank H. Ogawa added. Little masked “bandits” will hold up the Oakland Acorn, miniature steam train, several times during the afternoon and distribute goodies.
- The paddle boat Lil’ Belle was said to be modeled after a Sacramento River stern wheeler
- The Oakland Acorn was overhauled and repainted in 1955, and air brakes added for safety
- The rail line was called the C. & E. G. R.R. (Carefree and Extra Gladsome Railroad)
- In 1955 the park added a mining shack and old miner to talk to the kids
- Around 1957, the Overland Stage, a child-sized replica of the Wells Fargo stagecoaches was added. It was pulled by a pair of silver dapple Shetland ponies named Blondie and Pinkie.
The Mr. C. Spaceship site documents:
June 25, 1958: Oakland policemen John Taggart and Sam Daugherty open a prototype “Star Flyer” at Peralta Playland in Oakland
July 6, 1959: After settlement of a lawsuit over cost of its construction, Taggart and Daugherty’s executed “Star Flyer” (or “Star Flyer Rocketship”) heads to Dallas
Read about the “Star Flyer” in this December, 1959 Popular Mechanics article (with photos)
- In 1959 the park added a dwarf Hereford steer
- One of the designers was landscape architect Amedee Sourdry, who delivered a talk at Rice University in 1956 called “Imaginative Play Constructions in the Contemporary Park Picture.”
- Plans were underway for a viking boat that would have linked Fairyland and the Playland together, with a stopover at the duck feeding area (which is where the Rotary Nature Center now sits)
The Lil' Belle was built by Arrow Development of Mountain View, who were contracted by Walt Disney to build rides for Disneyland. Between 1953 and 1970 Arrow would develop the ride system for at least fifteen of Disney's attractions, including the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. 1
The Oakland Acorn
According to Kathryn Kasch in an article in the Oakland Heritage Alliance News, "the steam engine and five cars were built in 1949 by George Reddington and Robert Blecha in San Leandro and 1,500 feet of narrow gauge track was laid around the bit of exposed estuary channel." 2 The train opened to the public on July 22, 1950. The rail line was called the C. & E. G. R.R. (Carefree and Extra Gladsome Railroad).
The train was overhauled and repainted in 1955, and air brakes added for safety. By the time the park closed in 1968, the train was diesel powered.
When the park closed, Gene Autry bought the train and ran it in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. "Today it seems to still be in use on the Whiskey River Railroad at an amusement park called Little Amerricka in Marshall, Wisconsin!" 2 A comment on Facebook suggests there were two trains, the Oakland Acorn and a different one owned by Gene Autry.
The Acorn is featured in the first 20 seconds of this Southern Pacific safety film, and includes a shot of the tunnel:
Remnants of the train tunnel are still visible near 10th Street, though they will likely disappear as more of the channel is re-opened to the estuary as part of the 12th Street Project portion of Measure DD. The locomotive wheels in concrete were part of the fence for the Oakland Acorn, and will be preserved as part of a new playground.
Links and References
"Small trains, but with big amounts of charm" Kathryn Kasch Oakland Heritage Alliance News Summer 2014