Farewell My Children’s Happy Hollow

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo is one of our favorite kiddie-friendly places to go in San Jose, and we have pictures to prove we’ve been going there since Neil was about 6 months old. It’s rather old fashioned, and rather worn, but that’s always been part of its charm. On one end is a small zoo with mostly herbivorous animals and birds that couldn’t hurt anyone if they got out, with only a jaguar behind a thick plexiglass wall as the exception. The highlight of the zoo is a petting area where children can pet and feed a donkey, a zebu, or miniature horses, and go inside a large pen with some friendly goats. On the other end of Happy Hollow park is a small amusement park made back in the day when childhood was more about fantasy and less about being cool. There are a number of carousels: one with ladybugs, one with police cars and firetrucks, one with charicature animals, and one (an especially small one) with miniature horses. There are are also a number of playgrounds, slides, playhouses, a concrete maze, a Viking boat, a mini mirrored fun house; a Danny the Dragon train ride that winds through fairy tale characters and animals; a big meadow to romp and play in; and whimsical structures made to climb on over and around.

The fact that it all comes back from the day when playgrounds and amusement parks didn’t feel so sterile is one of the things that delights us. On a hot day, you could scald yourself on the metal slides, and you can spin and spin in the merry go round until you puke. There’s an octopus in one of the playgrounds that jiggles as you move on it, and if you put a foot in the wrong place, it could hurt; and you could certainly take a bad tumble from the top of the bumblebee or hit your head on the maze. Some of the slides are so steep they frighten even the bolder toddlers, and I think that’s a good thing. Despite the potential danger, I’ve yet to seen anyone get hurt, and certainly not the way I see accidents at more modern playgrounds were the safety is assumed.

But I’m afraid it’s all going away. I found out a few weeks ago that Happy Hollow is closing down this summer for a full on renovation. Some of the announced  changes aren’t bad, such as a new restaurant, new seating in the puppet show theatre, and a bigger petting zoo. But I fear for the rides. Neil fears the rides will be revamped into the aggro branded-yet-personalityless type of rides you see at any other mediocre amusement park, like Great America. And I fear the anthropomorphic kiddie fun fashion of the 60s when the park was originally built will be usurped by the politically correct, enviro-precious fashion of the current day. It’s all too easy for me to image our Danny the Dragon turning into Danny the Environmentally Conscious Dragon with Snow White and the Seven Types of Recycling Dwarves. I know the shields from the Viking ship as well as the carousel characters are being sold at auction, so something more modern, and thus currently fashionable, is certainly taking their place. And I would place money on the fact that the metal slides will be replaced by less steep plastic ones, and that the merry-go-round and octopus as well as many other old play structures will be gone for good in favor of blander things like I could find at any other playground.

I took Kelly to Happy Hollow last Thursday, and like many of the other visitors being nostalgic, I took lots of pictures. By the time the park reopens in late 2009, she may have outgrown much of its little-kid fun, too. I’m happy we had it the way it was when my children were young, and I’m sure, no matter how well it’s improved, I will miss it the way it was.

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