Wonderland Conceptual Paintings

Before Wonderland was built, the people in charge made a conceptual painting of the proposed park, as is often done with a new large enterprise. In fact, they ended up making two such paintings, as we’ll discuss below. Because these weren’t meant to be the absolute last word on the topic — because plans can change, after all — Wonderland Park didn’t look exactly like either one. Nevertheless, both conceptual paintings were used for postcards of the Park. The second one was also used as an illustration for the cover of the first year’s souvenir book and for the Wonderland Waltz, the first of four pieces of music written about Wonderland.

That the paintings did not look like the park itself doesn’t seem to have bothered the powers that be at Wonderland, but they’ve confused generations of postcard collectors and historians. I have myself had to point out to some people that the parks didn’t actually exactly resemble the drawings, and they shouldn’t be used as a basis for understanding the Park. In fact, it took me a while to unravel the story behind these drawings.

The First Painting

This is the first conceptual painting, issued in November of 1905. It appeared (in black and white, of course) in Billboard magazine for December 2, 1906, with an explanation. The Park as pictured here is vastly different from what would finally be built, but it did have several of the attractions always intended for the Park. There is the feature that had already become the central attraction of virtually all such parks by this time — the central Lagoon with its Shoot the Chutes ride, and you can see that they already planned to have the central Lagoon bordered with Canals on the sides, a Grand Bridge across the bottom of the Shoot the Chutes ramp and subsidiary bridges across the canals, and a broad area at the opposite end of the Lagoon for circus acts. It’s not yet clear if they knew that they could get the enormous, double-barreled Shoot the Chutes from the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Note that the Shoot the Chutes ride faces away from the ocean, rather than toward the beach, as it was built.

The lazy sinusoidal sway of the coaster in the left background clearly identifies it as a LaMarcus A. Thompson Scenic Railway, and it is correctly placed by itself in the marshy northern part of the park. They show another , more traditional roller coaster in the front and center of the painting, showing that they were considering having one there from the first days of planning, even though the Velvet Coaster didn’t actually get installed until the spring of 1907. They may even have had the Velvet Coaster in mind.

Just above that Coaster is a Tower that I at first thought was a Tower of Light — a common attraction at amusement parks of this period. Closer inspection shows that there are cars attached to it, indicating a “Circle Swing” type of ride, although it doesn’t closely resemble Travers’ Circle Swing. Maybe they weren’t sure exactly how that looked. In all fairness, the tower itself could have been studded with electric lights and doubled as a Tower of Light, as well. The Circle Swing that were erected at Wonderland certainly did have them. Just to the lefty of this is something that looks like the Whirl the Whirl, only with six cars instead of four.

The red-roofed building above the Whirl the Whirl is almost certainly the Restaurant and Ballroom. It’s in about the same place as the one finally built in Wonderland.

Way in the back is a structure billowing smoke that obscures Broad Sound. This is surely the Fighting the Flames Show. This, too, was a virtual necessity of amusement parks at the end of 1905. In front of the smoke, however, is a building that closely resembles the Creation attraction from the 1904 St. Louis Fair and later in Dreamland. The Billboard article, in fact, boasts that “Henry Roltair, known throughout the amusement world as the greatest spectacular originator and producer, has arranged to build Creation. The marvelous success of this scenic production at the St. Louis Exposition, and last year at Dreamland, Coney Island, renders it certain that this attraction alone will bring many thousands to Wonderland Park. “

The oddest part of this painting is the group of eight long, white, red-roofed buildings all converging at a central octagonal ground. When Wonderland was first being promoted the full title was Wonderland Amusement Park and County Fair. The buildings undoubtedly represent the “County Fair” part. They were hoping that this would be a major part of the attraction, corresponding, perhaps, to a “World’s Fair” at the larger expositions. They’d hoped to exhibit local manufacturing and industrial marvels, just as the international Fairs had done, and they actively solicited for entrepreneurs to apply for spaces. Although they noted that “New England manufactures alone could considerably more than fill the spaces allotted.” But the article says hopefully that “…applications are coming in from all over the country for spaces in these exhibition buildings.”

Several other features stand out. There are several tents with unspecified attractions, and there appears to be an oval track in the background. There are buildings that look like the WAlnut St. entrance and the Infant Incubator in about the same places they were actually built. Most important, however, is the entrance placed in the foreground at the lower left, right beside a new railway stop on what has to be the Boston and Maine railroad. I’m sure they sincerely hoped that such a stop would be built. It would have brought patrons directly to the Park from Boston without the necessity of a ferry ride (as with the “Narrow gauge” railway), or walking (The Walnut Street entrance was about equidistant from, and not very close to, two Narrow Gauge stops). Had that B&M Railway stop been built, the Park would have done much better.

The Second Conceptual Painting

Some significant changes occurred between November 1905 and February 1906. The events responsible have not been documented, but they can be guessed at from the evidence of the new Conceptual Painted that appeared in February 1906:

The Park has been re-arranged. Many of the elements from the November 1905 painting are still there, but they’ve been moved around. The Shoot the Chutes has been turned around so that it faces the ocean, and is on the other side of the park. The Thompson Scenic Railway is still there, in about the same place, the Restaurant/Ballroom is still in the same place, and the second roller coaster is still in that same corner of the park. The Fighting the Flames show has possibly been pushed a little further into the park.

But the differences are telling. Creation is no longer there, and there is no further mention of Henry Roltair. Instead, two new attractions, attributed to Attilio Pusterla (who worked on Creation, but was a ride creator himself), were said to be in construction — the Descent into the Hell Gate (which appears to be indicated on the painting, about where it was built) and something called the Razzle-Dazzle at first, then called Love’s Rough Journey, which never was built (It’s not to be confused with H.H. Pattee’s Love’s Journey, which was built, but which isn’t indicated on this painting). The accounts, which originally said that construction would be by T. B. Moore construction company, now said that it would be built by Shea and Aldrich (both of whom had worked for Moore).

The entire “County Fair” aspect is gone, the eight long buildings vanished, and it was never mentioned again after the start of 1906.

You would think that, with such sweeping and jarring changes so soon before the start on construction, the opening of Wonderland would be delayed, or the construction would be too slapdash, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. The Park opened on time, and there was no noticeable defect in the buildings.

This painting was used in several places. It appeared in numerous postcards, in both color and black and white:

It was used on the cover of the 1906 Souvenir Book:

… and it appeared on the cover of the first piece of Wonderland sheet music, the Wonderland Waltz:

It showed up in a news story about Wonderland before it opened:

But a weird thing happened. They not only printed up the second conceptual painting as a postcard (in multiple variations), they also printed up multiple editions of the first conceptual painting — even though it didn’t look at all like the actual park. I can think of two possibilities — 1.) They had already printed up a lot of the first conceptual painting before they broke ground, or even knew what all the problems were, and were stuck with thousands of postcards that didn’t actually match up with reality, but they didn’t want to simply toss them out after having paid for them, so they sold them anyway; or 2.) they were so desperate for color postcards (as opposed to black and white postcards, which probably didn’t sell as well) that they printed up postcards of the first conceptual painting because it was available, and people provbably wouldn’t care that it didn’t tally with the real world.

Finally, it is worth re-iterating that even though the second conceptual painting is pretty close to the way the park actually looked, it still predates the actual construction of the park, and is filled with things that never existed. That large round building on the right was never built. That park-like area next to it, which appears to have palm trees, was almost certainly the Igorotte village of Philippine natives, which was planned but never built (such villages were features of the Coney Island parks, the St., Louis 1904 Expo, and elsewhere). That large fountain between the Thompson Scenic Railway building and the Fighting the Flames grandstand was never built. That mountain at the end of the Lagoon might be the Mt. Fuji of the Japanese Village, which was moved back to the outer wall of the park. The Velvet Coaster, when it finally went up in 1907, was on the other side of the Shoot the Chutes. That might still be a railway stop on the B&M and an entrance at the far side of the Park, but that never happened, either. (It’s also interesting that they show an active locomotive and cars on the curving “spur” railway line in the lower left. But that stretch of track was bought by B&M as a place to store unused cars. It was never an active part of the railway system with passenger or freight trains running on it.)

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