By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
The Atlantis of legend was an advanced society from ancient times that sunk beneath the sea in some great catastrophe. Its legacy has given birth to much mythology, science fiction and one of the most unique parks in the United States.
Atlantis Play Center, located north of Garden Grove Park just south of the Garden Grove Freeway, will have its own legacy celebrated on Saturday, June 15 from noon to 4 p.m. Not only will the facility, with its aquatic theme, be feted for its 50-year history, but a look forward will also be afforded for those who attend.
The center features play areas designed to reflect the watery theme, as well as a pavilion for picnics, rolling hills and valleys and a “splash pad” for summertime cooling off.
In addition to serving as one of the most popular kids’ playgrounds in Orange County, Atlantis also hosts city events tied to celebration of Christmas, Halloween and Easter.
“Over the years it’s served as a fun and safe environment for kids and their families,” said Kimberly Huy, community services director.
The park traces its prehistory to land owned by Dick Haster. The site, located north of Westminster Avenue and east of Magnolia Street, was acquired by the U.S. Navy during World War II, and later was divided between the new City of Garden Grove in 1957 and the Garden Grove Union High School District.
The western portion became Garden Grove Park; the eastern part is now Bolsa Grande High School.
Jack Wallin, now 84, was Garden Grove’s first superintendent of parks. He served in that capacity for 17 years and still is on the city’s parks and recreation commission. In addition to the traditional open space for Garden Grove Park, early recreation leaders sought something special for a section of the land.
“We wanted something unique, something that nobody else had,” said Wallin. Were there other concepts considered? “We looked at one city that had a Tom Sawyer’s island park, but we didn’t want to copy anyone.”
Together with colleagues, Gene Rotsch, Pat O’Brien, Bob Jablonski and Earl Balchi, the recreation team began planning for Atlantis. According to reports published in the Garden Grove Daily News, the Garden Grove Junior Women’s Civic Club launched a fundraising drive in 1961 and ground-breaking was done in August 1962.
“It’s not generally known,” said Wallin, “but back then we [recreation staff] made all the equipment in the park.” Money for the project was donated by civic and community groups in Garden Grove and Westminster.
The park opened on July 4, 1963 to a throng of 5,000 people. Once opened, a day’s admission cost a dime; today it’s $2, according to Huy.
Next week’s free event will see displays of historic photos of the park, “retro picnic-style” games, food, music and more. A model of a proposed new ship for Atlantis will be on view, as the city seeks donations for its construction.
Conceived a half-century ago, is Atlantis is need of a new look? “I don’t think so,” said Wallin. “It’s served the city well for 50 years. It’ll be good for another 50.”