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Jersey Roots: The man who built Great Adventure

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Jersey Roots: The man who built Great Adventure

Erik_Larsen 2:59 p.m. EDT June 26, 2014 Asbury Park Press


Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the opening day of Six Flags Great Adventure.


When the theme park opened on July 1, 1974, it was just called Great Adventure, the manifestation of a grand vision by Warner LeRoy, the son of "The Wizard of Oz" producer Mervyn LeRoy and Doris Warner, the daughter of Warner Brothers Studios executive Harry Warner.


With the flamboyance of Liberace and the savvy business sense of Donald Trump, LeRoy arrived on the scene in Ocean County in the early 1970s with money to burn and a pair of Borzois (or German Wolfhounds) at his side.



Warner LeRoy, the founder of the Great Adventure Theme Park and Safari in Jackson, stands in front of what would become

the “Yum Yum Palace” there, during construction in the early 1970s.(Photo: PHOTO COURTESY OF HARRY APPLEGATE )


Like a kid playing with a model railroad set, LeRoy had designed a 1,500-acre theme park and resort in his imagination — settling on the Pine Barrens in rural Jackson as a location. Land here was relatively

inexpensive and unencumbered at the time, and close enough to both the New York and Philadelphia markets to attract investors.


Here, LeRoy pitched the original name of his dream, the "Enchanted Forest and Safari Park," which he saw as becoming a sprawling complex with rides, exotic animals for the open-air zoo and any number of attractions. One day, he presumed, his creation would rival Walt Disney World in Florida, said Harry Applegate, who is the theme park's unofficial historian and operator of the website greatadventurehistory.com.


"Projected costs quickly escalated and the plans were dramatically scaled back," Applegate said. "Even so, some of the over-sized and over-the-top designs which he envisioned for the entire property did make their way into the park that was built."


Those concepts that came to fruition included "The Fort" (which houses the Runaway Train and Sky Ride, Super Teepee and Conestoga Wagon) all once found in Great Adventure's western section (called Rootin' Tootin' Rip Roarin'), in addition to the whimsical-themed ice cream parlor called Yum Yum Palace. The restaurant was constructed to resemble an immense ice cream sundae, with fiberglass used to create a roof of candy, ice cream scoops and swirls, he explained.


Ultimately, LeRoy's direct involvement with the evolution of Great Adventure did not extend much past that first season 40 years ago, Applegate said. LeRoy sold his remaining interest in the park in 1993.


Four years after that first summer, the Six Flags brand was added to the name of Great Adventure and Safari, when the Texas-based entertainment company acquired the park ahead of its 1978 summer season, Applegate said.


As of 2014, Six Flags operates 18 parks across North America, including 16 in the United States, one in Montreal and another in Mexico City, and reported $1.1 billion in revenue, according to the company.

LeRoy, who was always thinking ahead to his next big project, would become better known as a restaurateur in the years that followed Great Adventure. He was responsible for bringing "glamor and pizzazz" to places such as Tavern on the Green and The Russian Tea Room in Manhattan in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively. Under his leadership, both institutions were turned into profitable restaurants and culturally, into household names, as the Associated Press reported when LeRoy died at the age of 65 in 2001 of complications from lymphoma.


Today, Six Flags Great Adventure is the largest seasonal employer in New Jersey, said Kristin Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for the theme park. Some of those employees from that first year four decades ago have even remained with the park to this day.


"The park has changed a great deal over the past 40 years, but one thing has remained the same: Six Flags Great Adventure is a place to create happy, lasting memories with thrills for all ages," Siebeneicher said. "We are proud to celebrate 40 years here in New Jersey."


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Id say more then likely, But I belive he was stertained by it more so.

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