Retrograde Amusement Park to Open by Summer
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April 18, 2006By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
The Park at West End, Ft. Smith
Arkansas Department of Parks and TourismFORT SMITH
– In Frontier Days, one of the first views pioneers coming into Fort Smith
from Indian Territory had was of the military fort flanking the Wild West border town. Today, those traveling U.S. 64 over the Arkansas River bridge from present-day Oklahoma will see an antique Ferris wheel amid a thriving city center. The Park at West End
, an old-fashioned amusement park expected to open by Memorial Day, is located downtown on Second Street and Garrison Avenue adjacent to the Arkansas River bridge.
"It’s kind of a retro fun park," explained Phil White, developer. The attraction is owned by a small group of investors under the name Produce Row Developments.
The developers have been restoring a late-1930s Ferris wheel for about one year. "It’s an original from the Eli Bridge Company," White explained. While George Washington Gale Ferris designed the first Ferris wheel, the Eli Bridge Company developed a practical and portable wheel. White said his Ferris wheel is stamped with the date 1937, but may be from 1938 or ’39. "It’s controversial as to the actual date of it," he explained. "It was built and put on display at the  San Diego World’s Fair. Then it was disassembled and went a couple of other places. This is its fourth home and probably its final home."
Another main feature will be a hand-painted carousel from Italy. “It’s an ’86 model but looks old,” White said. He added that its size is about two-thirds of the Over the Jumps carousel in Little Rock. That carousel has about 40 ponies.
Developers also have gutted a 1957 Pullman dining car and converted it into a diner. "When it’s finished it will look like it was always a diner," White explained. Inside, it will contain architectural pieces from Ft. Smith. For example, its bar is from the now-defunct Pete’s Place. "Old-timers from around Ft. Smith will remember it," White said.
Taliano’s, a well-known Italian restaurant located downtown in the 1887 Sparks Mansion, will provide the food services for the rail car eatery. The Nickel and Dime Diner by Taliano’s will serve pastas and some Italian sandwiches among other items. "The train will have beer and wine, but it’s not a bar," White added.
In addition to the restaurant will be standard amusement park fare. "We’ve got a 1963 British Leyland," White said. The two-story bus has been converted into a concession stand for hot dogs, snow cones and popcorn. "The top deck is going to be full of mannequins, like they’re taking a bus ride," he added.
For nostalgic purposes, White said an outdoor pavilion will contain a Penny Arcade of retro arcade games. A sound system will pump background music throughout The Park. About every 20 minutes a tune will be played by calliope circus wagon.
Architectural features of The Park include brick, stone and iron collected over the years by White. Iron gates for the front entrance are from a former Jewish temple built in Fort Smith in the 1800s. Cast iron columns and stonework were preserved from downtown buildings demolished by a 1996 tornado that ripped through the city.
White said the attraction adds to the life of the downtown, serving as a bridge between daytime activities of shopping, tourism and business to evening dining and club nightlife.
"I can see people coming into Fort Smith and seeing this beautiful old Ferris wheel," White explained. "It makes a statement that this downtown isn’t dead."
While the hours of operation have yet to be set, White expects it to be open from approximately 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. during summer weekdays with an extension to midnight on weekends. Off-season hours will likely be 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. "Really, whatever the market demands," he said.####
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"
1 Capitol Mall, 4A-900 - Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 | 1-800-872-1259 or (501) 682-7777 (V/TT)