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Early History of the Lagoon Amusement Park (taken from the application to National Historic Places)
Lagoon's first incarnation was as a beach resort called Lake Park on the edge of the Great Salt Lake three miles west of the city of Farmington in Davis County, Utah. Lake Park was built by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad midway between Ogden and Salt Lake City. Lake Park was partially owned by Simon Bamberger, a transportation magnate and governor of Utah from 1917 to 1920. Lake Park opened on July 15, 1886. The roundtrip train fare provided admission to dancing, roller skating, target shooting, a bowling alley, and a pleasure garden. One of the few mechanical amusements at Lake Park was a "Flying Jennie," a mule-powered circular ride with swinging seats. (Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 1887)
Only a few years after the opening of Lake Park, the waters of the fickle Great Salt Lake began to recede, leaving the resort beaches with a "sticky brand of blue mud" that spelled misery for bathers by the early 1890s. (John S. McCormick and Nancy D. McCormick, Saltair, (University of Utah Press, 1985), pages 14-15)
In 1896, the owners moved the pavilions and attractions inland to a property at the western edge of Farmington. The new resort featured two artificial lagoons and was christened the Lagoon Summer Resort and Picnic Grounds. Lagoon opened on July 12, 1896. The 1898 Sanborn map of Lagoon shows the interurban Salt Lake & Ogden Railway line along the east side of the resort. At the beginning of the 1903 season, park owner Simon Bamberger raised its train and admission fare from 25 cents to 50 cents in order to attract "only the best class of patronage" and actively promoted the Lagoon's "beautiful grounds" with its shade trees, flowers, grass, gardens, and cool temperatures in an effort to distinguish the resort from its lakeside rivals. (Saltair: 73; Salt Lake Herald, April 21, 1903: 5; Salt Lake Herald, August 17, 1903: 5-6)
The following comes from the Utah History Encyclopedia, published in 1994:
Lagoon is an amusement park located within the city limits of Farmington in Davis County, about eighteen miles north of Salt Lake City, approximately halfway between Salt Lake and Ogden. Bamberger's Salt Lake and Ogden Railway Company built it in 1896 to stimulate passenger traffic following the completion of tracks from Salt Lake to Farmington the previous year by its predecessor, the Great Salt Lake and Hot Springs Railway Company.
Amusement parks, including Coney Island, were established throughout the United States in similar fashion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1908 the "Bamberger Line," as it came to be called, was extended to Ogden, and in 1910 it was electrified. Bamberger was a prominent businessman who came to Utah in 1870, initially engaged in the hotel business, made his early fortune mainly from the mines of the Tintic District, was active in politics, and in 1916 was elected the state's first Democratic governor.
The 40 acres on which Lagoon was located--it has since grown to 150 acres--included a small body of water (according to some accounts a reservoir, while others called it a Salt Lake City ice company's pond) from which it took its name. Bamberger bought most of the original buildings from another resort, Lake Park, that had been located 2.5 miles to the west on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad had built that resort in 1886; Bamberger held a 25 percent interest in it and was the resort's vice-president. It had closed following the 1895 season when receding lake waters had left it surrounded by mud and far from the water. The cupola of Lake Park's dancing pavilion--designed by Richard Kletting, best known as the architect of the original Saltair (1893) and the Utah State Capitol Building (1915)--is the only part of an original building remaining at Lagoon.
At its opening Lagoon advertised "Bowling, Elegant Dancing Pavilion, Fine Music, A Shady Bowery and Good Restaurants." Since then other attractions, typical of those found at amusement parks throughout the country, have been added. At one time or another, Lagoon has offered hot-air balloon rides, boxing and wrestling matches, great names in entertainment, horse racing and pari-mutuel betting, roller-skating, baseball games, dancing, swimming, bicycle racing, a zoo, motion pictures, live theater, blackface minstrel shows, rodeos, a midway, rowboating, marching bands, wild West shows, fireworks, and mechanical rides.
The first "thrill ride" was the "Shoot-the Chutes," a distant cousin of today's log flume, in 1899. Swimming in the lake began the next year. A merry-go-round, featuring forty-five hand-carved wooden horses, and still in use today, was added in 1906, a roller coaster in 1921, a swimming pool, with a sandy "Waikiki Beach," in 1928, and a fun-house in 1929. A fire on the night of 14 November 1953 destroyed much of the park, but it was quickly rebuilt and continued to expand--in contrast to its chief rival, Saltair, which closed permanently after the 1958 season. In 1968 the Lagoon Opera House, a 300-seat theater, was added; in 1976 Pioneer Village, a collection of historic buildings and artifacts purchased the previous year from the Sons of Utah Pioneers; and in 1989 a $5.5-million, 4.5-acre water park, "Lagoon A Beach."
The Bamberger family operated Lagoon until 1946 when, following its closure for several years during World War II, they leased it to the Utah Amusement Corporation, with Ranch S. Kimball as president and general manager and Robert E. Freed as secretary and assistant manager. It previously had been leased for ten years, from 1918 through 1927, to the Amusement Concession Company. Gradually, other members of the Freed family became involved in Lagoon's operation, and in the 1970s their Lagoon Corporation bought the resort. They continue to operate it today, with Peter Freed as president. Currently Lagoon has a year-round, full-time staff of 135 people and a summer work force of about 1,200; its annual payroll is about $4 million. Its primary market is the Wasatch Front, but it also reaches secondary markets--primarily the rest of Utah, southern Idaho, and southwestern Wyoming--and about 20 percent of its patrons are from out of state. (John S. McCormick)
"In 1895 a Salt Lake City ice company conceived the idea of creating a lake from which it could harvest ice in the winter. The Lagoon springs, from which the lake was formed, were too warm to allow thick ice to freeze. Nevertheless, for several years ice was stored in three large ice houses located immediately south of the present water filters at Lagoon's swimming pool." (Park Record, April 17, 1947)
January 28, 1896
"The Great Salt Lake & Hot Springs road has a force of men and teams at work making a grade for the extension of its line a short distance further north, where Simon Bamberger is making extensive preparations for a summer resort. An official of the Hot Springs road told The Herald correspondent today that the main buildings that are now at Lake Park, including the pavilion, are to be moved to this point. It is expected that the resort will be ready for opening next summer." (Salt Lake Herald, January 28, 1896)