Where Fun and Business Blend : Artist of Motion Turns Fantasy Into Reality With Assortment of Amusement Park Rides
Of all the businesses west of the Los Angeles River, none is more incongruous than Bradley & Kaye Amusements. Where body shops and junkyards are the norm, this small building on West 15th Street seems out of place with its wood siding and its equestrian logo painted beside the front door.
Open that door, and for a moment you might half expect to smell popcorn or hear a pipe organ, instead of fiberglass, sanders and drills. As one of the oldest suppliers of amusement park rides to Southern California, Bradley & Kaye is in the business of play.
Here a menagerie of horses, camels and dragons fills each room. There are Fokker aircraft and speedboats. Pictures of carrousels, parachute rides and auto mazes cover the walls. The atmosphere is almost mysterious, like what a toy factory might be to a child.
“Adventure and education--that’s what we’re all about,” said the owner, Dave Bradley. “Here the marketplace is limitless--as large as your imagination and your sense of challenge. It can be a dark, mysterious ride filled with lights and sounds, or something bright and outdoors, appealing more to children.”
Staff of More Than 20
Involved in research, development and construction, Bradley oversees a staff of more than 20, ranging from fiberglass-workers to mechanics, free-lance designers to airbrush artists, who can complete a carrousel in nine months at a cost of about $500,000, depending on size and other specifications.
But carrousels are just part of his repertoire. His current portfolio includes a Children’s Circular Speedboat Ride, a Swan Boat Ride, a Hanglider Ride and a Children’s Balloon Ride, some of which can be found as close as Camp Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm and as far away as parks in Japan, Toronto and Jakarta, Indonesia.
“We have three of Dave’s rides in Camp Snoopy--a small children’s roller coast, a push-me, pull-you miniature car and a balloon ride,” said Larry Frack, vice president of maintenance, construction and design planning at Knott’s Berry Farm.
“Each is very popular with their particular age group. You see, when you build a park, you’re interested in having it balance out. Prior to finishing Camp Snoopy in 1983, we really had nothing for the 2- to 8-year-olds, and young families are important to us.”
Dave Bradley learned the importance of targeting a young audience back in 1945 when he started Kiddieland in Los Angeles, near the corner of Beverly and La Cienega. Once a Standard Oil drilling site, Kiddieland was a local landmark in the 1950s and 1960s. Its roller coaster and rides had locals coming back time and again.
“Kiddieland proved to be a test of my life philosophy: Never turn down a job,” Bradley said.
A graduate of Dartmouth College in 1934 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he was quick to put this philosophy into practice.
“I had to. It was a terrible time to get out of school--what with the Depression and a controlled economy. So I returned to L.A., figuring I could find something at home.”
Managed Big Bands
There was a string of jobs--from working for the Hollywood Reporter to being road manager for a string of Big Bands. During World War II he worked as a machinist tooling airplane parts for Lockheed in Burbank.
When the war ended, he found the world had changed.
“The Big Bands were gone. The ballrooms weren’t the same as in the ‘30s. It was the loss of a world, which perhaps wasn’t all that bad for me. Life on the road is a one-way street. You can get burned out too easily.”
So Bradley spent some time, in his own words, scrounging around, wondering what would be possible. He’d always been interested in amusement parks. As a child, during the 1918 influenza epidemic, when everyone vacationed at the beach, he can remember watching the rides on the end of the Venice pier; his parents never let him mix with crowds on the pier, though.
“We started Kiddieland with a lease from the oil company,” Bradley said. “Don Kaye was my partner at the time; when we split up, I just decided to keep the name.”
In the course of Kiddieland’s 30 years, Bradley successfully diversified. “We’d buy and sell rides. Fix up the broken ones. Salvage this. Scrap that. About this time, we bought our property on 15th Street. I was thinking about buying Virginia Park, a portion of the old Pike, off Ocean Boulevard, only theowners weren’t selling. I did spend some time, however, managing it.”
Bud Hurlburt, owner of Castle Park in Riverside, has known Bradley since Kiddieland opened. “Dave’s always been building rides,” he said. “Sure, he has a small business, but he’s always producing new work. The industry needs someone like Dave. With his mind and ideas, he’s constantly giving them something to think about.
“When you go shopping for rides,” Hurlburt explained, “You’re looking for good design and mechanics, something that’s got appeal and’s going to be reliable. Dave comes up with them. When you match him with his competitors, he’ll usually be ahead of them.”
According to Hurlburt and Frack, Bradley’s only competitors are in the Midwest, on the East Coast and in Europe. Neither of the amusement park operators or Bradley could think of any in Southern California.
Visits by Disney
One of the more frequent visitors to Kiddieland in the ‘50s was Walt Disney.
“My wife worked for him for a time, and when she quit, he wanted to know why. It seemed like every Sunday he would stop by. He must have been thinking about Disneyland, surveying what was available,” Bradley recalled.
“As a man, he was everything the legend says--enthusiastic, wholesome. He wasn’t all that interested in money either; that only interested him if it could serve others. What’s more, he had great intuition; he knew how to pick a winner, precisely what his enterprise in Anaheim turned out to be.”
Based on his own expertise, Bradley was asked to be a member of a consulting team when Disneyland was still on the drawing boards.
“We worked first on the psychological aspects of the park. For instance, some people suggested placing Goofy out front--a large-scale Goofy, a Goofy for people to walk under. But we didn’t want to overwhelm people. We had to create a better first impression. So we worked another angle--a Main Street with everything cut down to 7/8ths scale. This way the average man would be slightly taller than the world around him. Disneyland had to be for everyone--not just for kids, but for everyone.”
Though Bradley was asked to continue his work with Disney, he declined. “I just didn’t want to be swallowed up by something that big, where a single ride might take two to three years to develop. I felt I could express myself better with Kiddieland and my work on the Pike.”
But as a manager of these parks, his experiences became a little less than pleasant. Gangs entered the scene. He was once robbed at gunpoint.
“I closed Kiddieland in 1974, and decided to devote my time to the creative end. Small parks had become a thing of the past,” Bradley said.
Now more than 10 years later, Bradley & Kaye is thriving in spite of the sudden proliferation of the high-tech, high-speed rides of today. Toward these Space Mountains, white-water-rapid roller coasters and ubiquitous loop-the-loops, Bradley feels no competition.
“It’s what the kids want nowadays; there’s room for us all. But I just don’t see the point of throwing people around. Sure, it’s easy to do, but why?” he said.
‘Showcase Your Patrons’
As Bradley advertises his rides to prospective clients, a favorite phrase seems to turn up: “Let us showcase your patrons.” And that is the heart and soul of his business sense--always put the customer first.
“A successful ride must make people look good,” he explained. “You don’t put them on turtles or elephants. I never did like Disney’s Dumbo. You have to flatter their self-image with fancy sports cars, exotic animals and the like.
According to Keith Sanders, executive director of product development at Opryland, Bradley was instrumental in developing the concept of this amusemement park, in Nashville, Tenn.
“Dave helped with the philosophy of Opryland, a park about as large as your Magic Mountain,” said Sanders. “But where he’s really creative is with children. Little things make his work so successful. Like what? Like knowing the kids should photograph well in his rides. You know, we have parents lining up to take their pictures.”
“He’s head and shoulders above the competition,” continued Sanders. “The rides that Bradley first started developing have now become industry standards.”
“I suppose I’m more interested in the art of these rides, in their harmony, propriety,” he said, pausing. “Take ‘It’s a Small World,’ one of my favorites at Disneyland; it’s got everything--music, motion and dazzling visual effects. Everyone can enjoy it and feel good about it afterwards.
“We call them contraceptive,” he said. “They give you all the thrills but none of the danger. Just like these did 50 years ago,” he said, smiling and pointing to a blueprint of his latest carrousel.
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