‘The Park Too Tough to Die’: Nostalgia and Ongoing Memory Making at an Old West Theme Park

Amanda Tewes, University of California, Berkeley

In 1961, after gaining inspiration from a visit to Disneyland’s Frontierland, a group of investors opened their own Old West theme park in San José, California—the heart of the Silicon Valley. Frontier Village was a theme park more reminiscent of a Hollywood Western than nineteenth-century San José, yet advertisers often marketed this fantasy landscape alongside California’s actual past. And residents anxious about the Silicon Valley’s explosive postwar expansion and loss of agricultural character could look to Frontier Village for a nostalgic foray into the past. However, it was in part San José’s unmitigated growth that led to the closure of the theme park in 1980. Despite becoming a ghost town in its own right, Frontier Village has lived on beyond the 1980 closure of its fort-like gates. The growth of the Internet gave Frontier Village new life starting in the 2000s through websites such as “Remembering Frontier Village” and its corresponding Facebook groups. Additionally, individual collectors have kept the memory of the defunct theme park alive by purchasing and curating memorabilia and business records. Notably, the largest collection of Frontier Village’s official history resides in private hands. Yet another enthusiast recreated Frontier Village in his own backyard, hoping to share his love of the theme park with his children, who were born more than a decade after its closure. Further, enthusiasts sponsor an annual picnic to reunite and reminisce about Frontier Village. These reunions are more than just a gathering for remembrance, rather they allow former employees to perform the roles they played at the park over thirty years ago, including reenactments of staged showdowns. These websites, collections, and reunions represent the latest in memorials for the lost landscape of Frontier Village, as well as that of mid-century San José.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 38. Politics of Nostalgia