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History of the Schoolhouse

Frontier Village History
by Elliott Fong
art by Paul B. Murphy (1961 brochure)

Frontier Village, owned and created by Joe Zukin and Laurie Hollings, opened its gates on October 21, 1961 at the intersection of Monterey Road and Branham Lane in San Jose, California. At that time, San Jose was a farming city and it was the furthest thing from today's Silicon Valley because there was no internet, no huge computer industry, and no congestion. Those peaceful qualities of the city were also shared by Frontier Village, the little Western themed amusement park under the tall trees.

The Hayes Mansion.

The park was located on thirty-three acres of property that originally was part of Congressman Hayes' estate. Frontier Village took up ten of those thirty-three acres, the parking lot was five acres, and thirteen acres were set aside for the park's future development. The 64 room Hayes Mansion, built in 1899 and completed in 1904, was located at the back of Frontier Village's property. The Hayes family first bought the estate's land, which was called "Edenvale," in 1887. The land was originally populated with countless California oak trees and the Hayes family added hundreds of eucalyptus, redwood, Monterey pine, Arizona Pine, and numerous other varieties of trees. The trees remained on the land after Frontier Village opened and thus, the park was always shady and cool. Those tall trees would eventually become the landmarks of the little park.

The park was started by Zukin, who was then in the car wash business. He took his children to Disneyland in 1959 and was inspired by it. He bought the needed land for Frontier Village. Hollings, who had worked for various Hollywood studios including Walt Disney's, set to work designing Zukin's idea for a Western style theme park. Hollings was the perfect man for the job because he had prior experience as a sculptor, painter, set designer, and amusement ride designer. Some of his previous work included the nature habitats at the California Academy of Sciences, sets and designs for San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, and several Western movies filmed at Columbia and Paramount Studios. The park that Hollings designed for Zukin was described by Hollings in a 1988 San Jose Mercury News article as "a sort of tongue-in-cheek approach to the Wild West."

In 1961, Frontier Village featured a handful of rides and attractions. Some of the more exciting rides were the Frontier Village Stage Line, the Indian War Canoes, the Frontier Village and Southern Pacific Railroad, and the Lost Frontier Mine Ride. The park also featured acres of undeveloped land where visitors could slowly wander through and observe the original trees planted by the Hayes family and the wildlife they attracted.

Over the park's almost 20 year history, some of the attractions were renamed and new rides were added. The Indian War Canoes became Indian Jim's Canoes and the Lost Frontier Mine Ride became known as the Lost Dutchman Mine Ride. During the same time frame, the park added new rides like Round Up, Stampede (Scrambler,) Sidewinder (Tilt a Whirl,) Tarantula (Monster,) Kittyhawk (Flying Scooter,) and Old 99 (a kiddie train ride.) Also eventually added was Frontier Village's first thrill ride, Apache Whirlwind, a electric powered runaway mine train "roller coaster" made by the German company Mack. The little powered "coaster" featured a compact figure eight layout with sharp turns and the locomotive's cab could accommodate two riders. Many of Frontier Village's rides were unique to the park and the ones that were not like its selection of flat rides, were all nicely themed with Western styling and paint schemes.

Pictured: Ground breaking day.

   Frontier Village - History Part II