Los Angeles was still a chaotic wartime city of a million and a half people in 1945 when Beverly Park and Playland opened its gates at the southwest corner of La Cienega and Beverly boulevards.
Drivers had to detour around a 1907 oil well in the middle of the intersection to drive in.
Nowadays, you have to search among the fancy restaurants, the art galleries, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and 58 underground oil wells to find the site of the pocket amusement park that was L.A.'s fun central before Knott’s Berry Farm, before Magic Mountain, even before Disneyland.
On every weekend and school holiday until it closed in 1974, Beverly Park entertained families with 12 rides, ponies and a haunted house. On a busy day, 5,000 people would cram into the scant acre.
Among the crowd you might have spotted Lana Turner, Norm Crosby or Dan Duryea with their children. The man who set the park in motion, David Bradley, called it the “park of the stars.” Directors set up their cameras here for movies such as “Sylvia,” starring Carroll Baker and George Maharis (1964), and “Three on a Couch” with Jerry Lewis and Lanet Leigh (1966).
And Bradley himself took pictures of kids of all ages. On the corner where a Bullock’s now stands, Bradley set up Ponyland. A pony by the name of Pistol was the favorite mount of a little boy named Zev Yaroslavsky, whose parents took him to the park on Sundays. Bradley took a picture of 6-year-old Zev astride Pistol.
Years later, City Councilman Yaroslavsky would be criticized for not riding to the rescue as the park’s demise grew near.
From Saturday morning until Sunday evening, Bradley was everywhere in the little park, switching on the tiny motorcycles on the minibike race course, running the kid-sized roller coaster, and, through a remote microphone, projecting the voice of the blue hippotamus that talked to children outside the Haunted Castle.
Inside the castle, two giant freak faces rolled their eyes, and a bat flapped up and down in front of visitors. Young children sometimes came out sobbing.
Bradley brought assembly-line efficiency even to children’s parties. Eleven tables were set with frilly hats and birthday party favors, and a hired birthday planner, with mind-zapping speed, moved groups of celebrating children in and out every 15 minutes.
In the early 1950s, when Bradley’s park had been up and running for several years, a man named Walt Disney asked for his advice about rides. Disney had an idea, and Bradley became one of the few amusement park operators who believed that the concept called Disneyland would succeed.
Bradley, a machinist for Lockheed during the war years and a Los Angeles native, thought everybody in his hometown could use some fun and laughter after the deprivation and chaos of World War II.
His playland provided plenty. While the carousel cranked out “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” other rides, including the Tooner-Ville Trolley, Dodgem cars and the Little Dipper entertained the under-12 crowd.
Its charms could drown out the noise of the growing city and draw the same customers again and again. For divorced dads, the park became a salvation, a place to spend a day with their children.
In 1971, one bachelor dad admitted to a reporter, “This is a good place to pick up women.”
The carnival lights and the smell of kosher dogs that had lured generations of Angelenos to the old park ended when its doors closed in 1974.
At the time, Bradley said that expanded oil drilling on surrounding property owned by the Beverly Oil Co. made his little leased acre seem ill-suited for an amusement park. So he gave up his lease and moved to Long Beach, where he began a full-time business restoring carousel horses and dreaming up more kiddie rides.
By 1982, the oil wells were forced underground to make way for the $100-million Beverly Center. Neighborhood folks called it the Incredible Bulk. The eight-level mall houses 160 shops and restaurants, 14 movie theaters and parking for 3,000 cars.
The little acre where parking and admission had once been free, and smiles and good times hadn’t cost much more than that, is now a bit more sophisticated--and certainly more expensive. There is valet parking, and a leather jacket for a 6-year-old costs about $175.