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Park Profile

The park that Jack built D

In the 1970s, in the wake of Six Flags Over Texas' success as the first non-Disney theme park, every American market that could squeeze out enough potential patrons saw a “theme park” spring up. The open pastures of Altoona, Iowa, just west of Des Moines, may have been more of a gamble than most, but Jack Krantz proceeded with guts and determination. Gary Kyriazi catches up with his surviving family to trace the development of Adventureland

Caption “


Disneyland's Main Street was reminiscent of the towns of Midwestern America, and since Jack Krantz' Adventureland was actually in Midwestern America, why shouldn't he do the same?


isney historians are quick to point out that when Walt Disney created Steamboat Willie, his 1928 animated short featuring Mickey Mouse, he intended his new film company to be named Disney Brothers, in the pattern of Warner Brothers, which had formed in 1926. After all it wasn't just Walt, it was Walt and Roy. Walt's mind was all creativity with little sense of money; Roy's was just the opposite. The two complemented each other beautifully. However, Roy insisted they stick with just Walt's name. After all, Mickey Mouse was Walt's vision, Walt's dream, and Roy was far more comfortable in the background handling the finances. Indeed, very few people have within themselves that perfect balance of creativity and finance. John Franklin “Jack” Krantz was one of them. In Des Moines, America’s farmland, he was the area's most successful builder of custom homes; successful enough to pursue his dream of an amusement park. He formed a group, Empire Investment Corporation to build what he named (simply if perhaps somewhat unoriginally) Adventureland. “Jack was always very clear in his vision,” his surviving wife Jan recalls today, “and always able to communicate his vision clearly to others in amazing detail (like Walt Disney). And he knew money, knew how to plan and budget (Roy Disney). On both ends he was very convincing. Besides, there was an entertainment hole here that needed to be filled. So Adventureland happened pretty quickly.” There certainly was no theme park competition in the area. An old, traditional riverside amusement park in Des Moines, Riverview Park, was gamely hanging on with its old wooden coaster and small collection of classic rides and games, but it was facing the uncertain future of all of America's traditional amusement parks at that time, particularly when faced with a new theme park in the same market. Riverview Park sadly closed two years after

Adventureland's debut in 1974. The old wooden coaster was torn down and the other rides were scattered, with the classic carousel, the Haunted House dark ride and Himalaya going to Adventureland. Adventureland quickly managed to grab a local, and regional, following. “Jack never intended Adventureland to be one of America's top parks,” Jan explains. “He kept his sites realistic, as a regional, family theme park.”

Still, there were some obvious influences, as I saw in the early days of Adventureland when Jack proudly gave me a tour of his new park. From the main entrance, we walked through one of the twin tunnels underneath a railroad station, into the Town Square of Main Street USA. “I borrowed this from Disneyland,” he smiled in acknowledgment. Hey, he wasn't the first to do so: Houston's Astroworld had its entrance open onto its Main Street when that park debuted in 1967, and Kings Island widened the concept by greeting its guests with International Street in its 1972 opening. Since Disneyland's Main Street was reminiscent of the towns of Midwestern America, and since Jack Krantz' Adventureland was actually in Midwestern America, why shouldn't he do the same?

Park in the Prairie

What I saw as we strolled the park back in 1976 may not have been particularly original, but it was indeed filling a need, and the healthy number of guests were obviously having a good time. Physically, Adventureland presented itself as an amusement park in the prairie, dotted with dozens of saplings, which promised to provide shade in the distant future. However, the two live shows I saw were satisfactory, my fried chicken lunch at the Iowa Cafe on Main Street was tasty; the mix of rides was strong, including two steel pre-fab coasters, a Cyclone and a Flitzer, and the park's number one money-maker, an OD Hopkins flume. "That's our most popular ride," Jack pointed out, and then added wistfully, "until we can get our wood coaster.” Unfortunately, Adventureland's first year was, as Jan plainly states, “a disaster! Our guests seemed to like the park, and we were encouraged. But then we had a tornado just two months after our opening, and it knocked out the windows on Main Street and much of our landscaping. Well, we couldn't have people enter the park and the first thing they'd see was boarded-up windows, not to mention the other damage. We had no choice but to close down for the remainder of 1974.”

The Dragon rollercoaster 43

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