Thursday, June 24, 2010

Knott's Berry Farm & Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant

When I was a kid, 13 years old, on our first family vacation to Southern California we had several things we wanted to see. Disneyland, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Universal Studios, Surfing.

And Knott's Berry Farm.

In many ways I enjoyed Knott's Berry Farm the most. Back then it was not as slick an operation as Disneyland. Knott's Berry Farm had a homey feel to it.

And it had a Ghost Town. I've always been a sucker for a good Ghost Town.

When I first visited Knott's Berry Farm, Walter and Cordelia Knott were still alive.

The Ghost Town was Walt's inspiration. Walt began building the Ghost Town in 1940, hauling buildings from old west towns, like Prescott, Arizona. The Knott's Berry Farm Ghost Town took off. Walt added Old Trails Hotel, Bottle House & Music Hall, Covered Wagon Camp, Butterfield Stagecoach, Calico Square, the Calico Saloon, Calico Railway and Calico Mine Train.

By the 1980s Knott's Berry Farm was hugely bigger than when I first saw it. Knott's Berry Farm opened well before Disneyland. The two parks were so different that the two Walt's, Disney and Knott, did not see themselves as competitors. They were friends. The Knott's were invited to the Grand Opening of Disneyland. Walt Disney visited Knott's Berry Farm many times.

The current day version of Knott's Berry Farm is dominated by roller coaster type rides that dwarf the original Knott's Berry Farm and has turned the park into not quite the unique theme park it was when Walt and Cordelia Knott ran things.

Speaking of Cordelia, she is behind my favorite Knott's Berry Farm location, that being Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

In 1934, when times were tough, Cordelia began serving fried chicken dinners on her own wedding china. The restaurant was located on Highway 39. Back then a popular route to get to the ocean beaches. The restaurant soon became a stopping point for beachgoers.

Mrs. Knott's signature dessert was Boysenberry Pie. In the 1930s a man named Rudolph Boysen showed Walt a berry he had cultivated that combined raspberry, blackberry and loganberry. Walt bought a few plants from Boysen's farm and started selling the berries at his roadside Knott's Berry Farm stand. When berry buyers asked what the berries were called, Walt told them "Boysenberries."

On my latest visit to the Knott's Berry Farm area I stayed across the street from Disneyland. I went to Disneyland. I did not go to Knott's Berry Farm, except for Christmas Eve dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

I had to have myself some of that Boysenberry Pie. And Mrs. Knott's fried chicken is real good too.

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