Now and Then: The Ghosts of Roller Rinks, Restaurants, and Amusement Parks Past

A moose-themed arcade/restaurant.

An amusement park straight out of the Old West.

A roller rink where you probably had your birthday party at least once and wore an L.A. Gear shirt and a denim vest (yes, VEST), and hoped that the boy you liked would hold your hand even though he was surely playing pinball and eating greasy pizza instead.

Whether you love or hate change, it happens. And, as San Jose continues to morph and develop, some of the places you just assume will always be there suddenly become a distant memory (And maybe the denim vest should REMAIN a distant memory…)

Let’s look at some historic (and some NOT so historic…one just closed this past year) San Jose fixtures and what now stands where they once were.

THEN: Bullwinkles

Opened: 1981

Closed: 1996

Bullwinkles

I remember visiting Bullwinkles as a kid and even then feeling like it was Chuck E Cheese done more upscale. (I mean, what’s more appetizing anyway: a mouse or a moose?) Based on the beloved cartoon characters of the ‘60’s, Bullwinkles was designed to look like a woodsy edifice on the outside, and inside was a cornucopia of arcade games, climbing structures, and even a show with animatronics that would run a couple times per hour. Other Bullwinkles locations exist today, but sadly the NorCal birthday go-to couldn’t keep its doors open.

Now: DaVita Santa Clara Dialysis/D1 Training Center

DaVita

In 1996, Bullwinkles closed and was replaced by a nightclub. And then another nightclub. And then I’m pretty sure one more nightclub before it finally landed in the hands of a completely different industry: healthcare. There isn’t a discernible trace of the old family entertainment center (or smarmy club scene) here anymore, but at least it’s moved on to a place where people can maintain health and happiness—even without the help of a cartoon moose.

THEN: Aloha/ Roxy’s/ Golden Skate/ San Jose Skate Roller Rink

Opened: 1977

Closed: December 2014

Rollerrink

Even though everyone agrees that it was a “bit” run down, the place consistently smelled like a foot, and the employees seemed like they would rather be doing anything…ANYTHING… than refereeing an organized game of Shoot the Duck, everyone also agreed that this place also just reeked of memories. The ultimate personality crisis, this rink went through at least 4 name changes but people generally fondly remember the original Aloha Roller Palace days where you DEFINITELY weren’t in paradise, but you got a little slice of roller heaven for 2 hours. Then get off the rink dangit. It’s roller derby practice.

NOW: ACO Furniture

Sigh. From a place that stood for pure, sheer, unadulterated fun to a chain furniture store that will probably be claiming that it’s going out of business and everything must GO, GO, GO! in no time, makes this one of the most depressing then&now’s in San Jose history. But all is not lost. If you stand in the middle of the concrete show floor, close your eyes, and just take the littlest whiff, you maybe—just maybe— might still detect the faintest aroma of skate sanitizer in the air.

THEN: Frontier Village

Opened: 1961

Closed: 1980

Frontiervillage

Some recent articles and videos (like this AWESOME one from Lost Parks of Northern California) have perhaps introduced you to Frontier Village, the Disneyland of San Jose back in the day. And from what I’ve learned, it was completely and utterly charming. Stories about the park abound, from the variety of rides and gunslinger shows, to canoe marathons, and even a Lutheran church that used to meet in the upper room of the Saloon. And overwhelmingly people that either worked in the park or visited it agree: IT SHOULD NEVER HAVE CLOSED. But you know, there’s still Happy Hollow.

NOW: Edenvale Park

edenvalepark

Nestled just adjacent to Hayes Mansion, this park is a favorite for South San Jose residents and features beautiful walking paths, mature trees, volleyball and tennis courts, and multiple play structures including a giant climbing rock (which used to also be a slide). Also, the park nods subtly to the ghost of its past with old maps of Frontier Village in display cases, and the occasional homage to former park decor (like this little frontier house and others atop light posts in the park).

Depressed that it’s no longer a theme park? Go get a drink at the bar in Hayes Mansion, or join the groups of people that reunite every year to reminisce about the former Frontier.

Stay tuned for more “Now and Thens” coming soon!

6 thoughts on “Now and Then: The Ghosts of Roller Rinks, Restaurants, and Amusement Parks Past

  1. Great article! I am nostalgic for Bullwinkle’s now. I was a 90s kid with an LA gear jacket who grew up in the South Bay ;0 On a related note, recently the beloved Cambrian Bowl was permanently closed. A passerby told me a group of locals stayed up late on the last night knocking back beers and singing Bohemian rhapsody. Thanks for this blast from the past.

  2. Play Town, at the Palo Alto Town & Country Village, goes back to the 1950’s. Designed and built by Arrow Development (Mountain View), they had one of the best amusement parks in the Bay Area of the day. This included a track-driven electric car ride, boat rides, merry-go-round and train. An authentic looking half-scale Standard Oil gas station greeted visitors at the entrance. Arrow Development built many of the early Disneyland rides, tested in this park. Play Town was shut down in the early sixties after a tragic accident involving a toddler.

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