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Entrance to Oaks Park. (Remodeled in 2001)
|Location||7805 SE Oaks Park Way
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
|Owner||Oaks Park Association|
|Opened||May 30, 1905|
|Operating season||Spring weekends and daily during summer (rides)
Oaks Park is a small amusement park located 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south of downtown Portland, Oregon, U.S., near the Sellwood Bridge. Known as the "Coney Island of the Northwest" after its opening in May 1905, it is one of the oldest operating amusement parks in the country.
The 44-acre (18 ha) park includes midway games, about two dozen rides that operate seasonally, a skating rink that is open all-year, and picnic grounds. It is also home to the Herschell-Spillman Noah's Ark Carousel, a historic wooden carousel constructed in 1912. (The Ring of Fire has been closed down and the Goliath Tower has been shut down due to height limits)
The park, conceived as an attraction timed to accompany the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, was built by the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company and opened on May 30, 1905, during a period when trolley parks were often constructed along streetcar lines. It attracted 300,000 visitors during its first season, and continued to attract about that many patrons throughout its first decade of existence.
In the early 1920s, the park was sold to John Cordray, one of its managers. After Cordray died in 1925, Edward Bollinger, Oaks Park's superintendent, bought all but the land from Cordray's widow; Bollinger acquired the land in 1943. Some of the park's earliest rides included Chute the Chutes, a chute ride that whisked the riders down a steep incline plunging into a small man-made lake; the Barrel of Fun, a funhouse which included screaming skeletons, mazes of mirrors, and dark dead-end hallways; and the Mystic River Ride, a boat ride that traveled through darkened tunnels. The park also featured a floating bathhouse anchored along the river at the south end of the park, as well as a dance pavilion, which attracted famous acts from around the world, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the John Philip Sousa Marching Band, and Patrick Conway and his World Famous Band.
In 1948, the Vanport flood submerged Oaks Park for thirty days, killing a third of the bluff's oak trees, warping most of the rides, and resulting in damage to the rink that took five months to repair; the next year, Bollinger's son Robert took over after his father's death. The damage prompted the owners to rebuild the rink floor on airtight iron barrels, which would float in the event of another flood; the floats worked as planned during the area's Christmas flood of 1964 and the Willamette Valley Flood of 1996.
For many years, three steam locomotives were kept at the park, on static display. These included Southern Pacific 4449, from 1958 to 1974; Spokane, Portland and Seattle 700, from 1958 to 1986; and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 197, from 1958 to 1996. Although no longer at Oaks Park, the three locomotives all remain in Portland, and since 2012 they are residing at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Two years after the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park closed in 1970, the Oregon Journal reported Oaks Park "may be on the verge of a renaissance"; three years later Sellwood's local newspaper, The Bee reported "30,000 people a month still come during the summer."
The park celebrated 100 years of continuous operation in 2005, making it among the oldest in the US.
The park includes a 100 by 200 feet (30 m × 61 m) wooden roller skating rink, open year-round. The rink has had a pipe organ for most of its history; since 1955 it has been a Wurlitzer model with four manuals, moved to the rink from its previous home at Portland's Broadway Theatre, where it had been installed in 1926. All pipework for the organ is mounted on a platform hanging over the skate floor.
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In 1989, the park and the interior of the roller rink were seen in a long sequence in Breaking In, a film written by John Sayles, directed by Bill Forsyth, and starring Burt Reynolds. It also appears in the 1999 PBS special Great Old Amusement Parks.
Oaks Park's skating rink was featured in the 2007 true story Music Within, 2008 thriller movie Untraceable, and again on TNT's Leverage on the season four episode four "The Van Gogh Job". The park itself was also featured in Free Willy (1993).