Friday, December 18, 2009

This Day in History, Dec 18, 1975 Playland Pier Burns

On the night of December 18, 1975, the vacated Playland Pier (known as the Barbary Coast for the previous few years before it went out of business) accidently on purpose burnt down.  It was the end of an era and forever changed the face of Coeur d'Alene's waterfront and City Beach.

In 1941 the Coeur d'Alene Lakeside Development Company introduced plans to build an amusement park on the east end of City Beach.  Over 20,000 cubic yards of fill had been hauled in and in the summer of 1942 Playland Pier was open for business.

Playland Pier offered a number of rides and attractions including (over it's tenure) a Merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, bumper cars, miniature train, small roller coaster called the Hey-Day, revolving swing ride, Loop-o-plane and a penny arcade. Between Coeur d'Alene's history as a tourist and vacation destination and with the opening of Farragut Naval Training Station, Playland Pier became a hugely popular place.

The rides, while by today's standards are now considered pretty tame, were grat thrill rides of their day.  The Merry-go-round (which still exists and was once, and may still, be considered for a return to CdA) was always popular with kids of all ages.  Bumper cars didn't often run in later years but caused a line when they did.  And what may have been the most popular was the Swing (far right in the abve photo) which, when operation, swung the riders out over the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

In the arcade were a couple Mutoscopes (hand cranked "motion" picture viewers) featuring things like a fan dancer and a snake eating a chicken, .02 cent vending machines where you could get post cards of movie stars and custom cars, skee ball machines and shooting games where, when hit, the bear would stand, growl and turn around.  My favorite was a penny-a-ball soccer game with steel balls (which, try as we may, never broke the glass case).

There was also a snack bar, souvenir stand and carnival games like balloon darts.  Below the pier and facing the lake were changing rooms that could be rented although those were removed in the late 50's.

By the mid-60's Playland Pier started to run down and in the early 70's was known more for a place the deliquent kids hung out.  Most days only a couple rides were running and many amusements had been hauled away or were broken.  Ownership had changed as did the name to Barbary Coast.  Little was done in the way of upkeep and the owners slowly started to cherry-pick what they wanted and took it away.

In 1973 the City of Coeur d'Alene was beginning a park improvement plan.  The land never belonged to the concessionaires and when they finaly pulled the plug the land, and remaining buildings, returned to The City of Coeur d'Alene.  The timing was perfect.

The City slowly started to dismantle Playland Pier and after everything of value (copper pipes, etc.) was removed the buildings were left for the wrecking ball.  On December 17 a small fire broke out in a building but went out.  The next night the whole place went up in flames.  The fire department sort of eyed it as a practice burn when they arrived, what was there to "save"?  In the end, the City was saved thousands of dollars just cleaning up after the fire rather than have it torn apart and hauled away.

America's Bi-centennial was 1976 and what is now known as Independence Point was dedicated.  The spot is now as popular as it ever was and is a prime location to soak up the sun, watch fireworks and view the swim portion on Ironman CdA.

But the memories live on.


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