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Arts & Entertainment

What does a defunct amusement park sound like? The lost sounds of Pacific Ocean Park

The end of Pacific Ocean Park's
The end of Pacific Ocean Park's "Banana Train" Ride featured an animatronic bird that bid riders adieu while laughing maniacally.
Courtesy Pacific Ocean Park Book, 2014
The end of Pacific Ocean Park's
Entrance to the Flight to Mars ride at Pacific Ocean Park
Courtesy Pacific Ocean Park Book, 2014
The end of Pacific Ocean Park's
Visitors to Pacific Ocean Park still remember its surreal attractions, even though the park lasted just 9 years.
Courtesy Pacific Ocean Park Book, 2014
The end of Pacific Ocean Park's
The inside of the the Deep Sea Locker at Pacific Ocean Park, a funhouse type attraction with lots of pre-recorded sounds designed to spook and intrigue visitors.
Courtesy Pacific Ocean Park Book, 2014
The end of Pacific Ocean Park's
The entrance to the Banana Train ride at Pacific Ocean Park, which waited for guests at the end of the pier.
Courtesy Pacific Ocean Park Book, 2014

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Gary Nissley works at Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena. He's also a former DJ with KPCC when the station played music out of the Pasadena City College basement. 

Nissley has been collecting music his entire life, and among the thousands of records he owns is a collection of sounds made for Santa Monica's Pacific Ocean Park — the now defunct seaside amusement park. 

Built in 1958, Pacific Ocean Park was a recreation destination until it shut down for repairs in 1967, never to reopen.

Writers Christopher Merritt and Domenic Priore give a beautiful account of the park's rise and fall in "Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles' Space-Age Nautical Pleasure Pier," incorporating photos, concept drawings and first person accounts of the amusement park.

Nissley's sounds don't just show what the park sounded like, but also how technicians with limited access to technology made amazing innovations with sound.

Nissley was working at Holmquist Sound at the time, a company that made sound effects and narration tapes for amusement parks. Pacific Ocean Park had been their main client.

In the early 1980s, after Holmquist was bought out and their offices moved from Arcadia to Santa Ana, Nissley discovered a box of reel-to-reel tape with the name and address of Pacific Ocean Park. Holmquist had recorded the sounds on acetate — one of the cheapest materials available at the time.

The tapes were already decaying badly. Nissley got to work digitizing them right away

"When I would copy them off, the tape was brown," said Nissley. "As you saw it come off the capstan, what was going up was clear. And there was a little puddle of dust."

The brown dust was the backing falling off the tape — rendering it unplayable. 

Nissley recovered dozens of sounds from the tapes. You hear ride safety warnings, sound effects and the goony bird — a fan favorite from the park's glory days. The bird awaited visitors at the end of the park's Banana Boat ride.

"It was a ride at the very end of the pier — kind of like you were almost going through a jungle," said Nissley. "And when the ride's over, everybody that I talked about this — they said I remember the goony bird!"

The goony bird bid farewell to riders, laughing maniacally and saying "thank you for riding with us!"

Nissley has the sounds digitized. You can hear them by clicking the play button on the left and listening to Gary's interview with KPCC. Also, come Halloween, you'll hear some of the spookier Pacific Ocean Park sounds on Nissley's podcast, which is produced by Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena.