Apart from the Main Midway (which features restored historic examples of Coney Island-esque entertainment architecture as well as “pocket theming”) and the Frontier Town & Frontier Trail sections (which are comprised of Disney-style Western and some not-so-Western structures and environments, along with historic / relocated / restored structures) the rest of Cedar Point is sort of a grab bag jumble of thematic design. So this final post is for everything at the park that doesn’t really fit anywhere else.
The Kiddy Kingdom playground area pictured above is the only instance I found at the park of the popular “Medieval Fantasy” thematic trope, and this makes sense; there just isn’t a proper setting for a Disneyland-style castle along the shores of Lake Erie. The interpretation here is like a fast food version of Ye Olde Medieval Faire… maybe they were thinking White Castle? The chain’s headquarters, after all, is in Columbus, Ohio.
Is this a Boston Market outlet? It sure looks like it. But no, it’s the Midway Market. Ironically the design resembles the “Festival Marketplace” concept which was the brainchild of developer James Rouse, who was an avid disciple of Walt Disney. Rouse built such marketplaces all over the Eastern Seaboard, including the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Massachusetts.
Not quite “Theme Park Gingerbread” but this Lost Persons & Message Center sort of functions like Main Street U.S.A.’s Town Hall at Disneyland. The belfry and roofing also resembles that same park’s primary train station.
Just like serving guests as livestock in the farm-like snack bars of Frontier Town, here ice cream is served in a Midwestern dairy barn, complete with white fencing. Given the bright blue highlights, you could almost call the design “Seaside Wisconsin.”
Cedar Point also has some thematic recreations of popular landmarks from elsewhere. Pink’s Hot Dogs has been a Hollywood institution since 1939, and in the late 2000s began licensing its brand further afield as a themed restaurant experience. There are currently Pink’s at places like Universal CItywalk, and there was once one on the Las Vegas Strip. Here the design has been tweaked to appear as more of a beachside eatery, given the location along the shores of Lake Erie. In other words, the seagulls fit just as they would in Venice Beach, California.
Chickie's & Pete's is a sports bar / restaurant chain based in Philadelphia which is famous for their seasoned crab fries. The place is serious about it, too—they trademarked “crab fries” in 2007 and are zealously litigious towards any other restaurant who tries to sell the dish. Yet I’m confused by the design here. The restaurant is famous for crab, but (perhaps due to the name Chickie’s?) this house looks more like a Southern fried chicken establishment, albeit a bit on the “Theme Park Gingerbread” side of things.
At some point, popular media depictions completely colonize the public mind’s perception of a subject—just another example of what Greg Turner-Rahman and I call cinematic subsumption. JAWS (along with its signature John Williams dum-DUM dum-DUM score) owns sharks; if you see a shark in the media, JAWS is invariably referenced. The same goes for dinosaurs—and Steven Spielberg is once again the culprit. Since his 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel Jurassic Park, to see a dinosaur (any dino) is to see it encased—trapped like a mosquito in amber—in that creative context.
So Cedar Point’s Dinosaurs Alive! on Adventure Island is the exact clone (pun intended) you’d expect. The colors and dinos-with-tropical-treescape silhouettes are torn right off the movie’s logo (which itself was based on Chip Kidd’s original book cover design), even down to the expected clumsy substitution of Lithos for the movie’s use of Neuland. I don’t know why second-rate designers always, always swap Neuland for Lithos, but they do. And let’s not get started on the problematic racist implications of using either to depict the jungles of the African continent.
The location for this low-rent animatronic experience is appropriate, however. This “Adventure Island” and the waterways around it was in years past home to such Disney-esque attractions as the Western Cruise (1962–64) then Paddlewheel Excursions (1964–2011). Many of the sights found along the Rivers of America at Disneyland were featured, such as animatronic Native American figures, an old army fort, and a burning settlers cabin.
Originally there were three primary islands in this part of the park, surrounded by canals. For the 1965 season, Jungle Larry's Safari Island opened on the topmost (eastmost) one, and this live animal attraction was so popular it was expanded two years later. In 1976 the canals around this island were filled in as the midway was expanded to accommodate new roller coasters such as Corkscrew.
The safari attraction lasted until 1994. The dinos moved to the central island in 2012 and (a year after my visit) went, um, extinct at the end of the 2018 summer season. An immersive, interactive, gamified experience is coming to the island in 2019.
The design of the structures in the Dinosaurs Alive! area do not relate to what people have seen in the Jurassic Park miniland areas of the Universal Studios theme parks. Instead, the Cedar Point designers opted for a more generic “safari” look, one that you can find all over Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, or at the San Diego Zoo, for example. This shorthand for “tropical” is apparently corrugated metal roofing, preferably painted red or orange.
Another way to say “tropical” in thematic design is to utilize barn lighting. As the Barn Light Electric Company defines it,
The term “Barn Light” is a broad classification with a few basic guidelines. As indicated by their name, barn lights originated in agricultural settings, like silos, barns, and farmhouses. These lights performed utilitarian tasks in rugged settings, and their designs reflected this functional mentality.
The four lights across this DINOSTORE sign are of the “Frontier Angle Shade” variety of the Gooseneck fixture model, and are indeed common to industrial settings in tropical climes. And let’s not forget—in Disney fashion—that groan-worthy puns abound. A Dinostore that’s just T-Rific! No Bones About It!
And Lastly, Some Coasters…
Roller coasters, aesthetically, are a kind of theme all to themselves. Especially wooden ones, which connote the turn-of-the-century pleasure beach amusement pier (which Cedar Point actually once was). But sometimes a coaster’s name, the design of a ride’s logo, or its station (the building inside which guests board) and surrounding landscape has its own bits of thematic design.
Although roller coasters with true themed elements have become more popular in recent years beyond the Disney parks (such as Wicker Man at Alton Towers or Mystic Timbers at Kings Island), there aren’t any at Cedar Point anymore—not after the closing of Disaster Transport in 2012. Originally a bobsled roller coaster called Avalanche Run which opened in 1985, the ride was enclosed and given an outer space theme in 1990, making it much like DIsney’s Space Mountain. When it was leveled to make room for GateKeeper, Cedar Point lost its one true themed coaster.
Being a typography aficionado, I really enjoy what a ride’s logo can tell us about the history of an attraction. Gemini is an Arrow dual track steel coaster built on a wooden structure, technically making it a hybrid. First of all, the name is clever for a racing coaster (Gemini, remember, is the dual sign of the twins) and the moniker also recalls NASA’s space program of the 1960s (the Gemini program was the two-person craft which followed the single-seat Project Mercury).
The Gemini logo is quite dated now, being set in Data 70 (designed by Bob Newman), which is derivative of the near-ubiquitous Westminster (designed by Leo Maggs) and also has the same MICR vibes as Amelia (designed by Stanley Davis—think the Beatles and their Yellow Submarine). Set here in an orange and red color scheme, I think of a video arcade in the late 70s and early 80s (MICR and OCR typefaces were widely used in science fiction media to indicate the “future-ness” of computer technology); exactly the trend the park’s designers were hoping to ride. Gemini opened in 1978 and feels precisely of its era.
As I approached Arrow’s Magnum XL-200 I kind of chuckled at the look of the coaster’s station. The ride opened in 1989, but unlike Gemini doesn’t feel of its era at all. What sort of corporate sci-fi brutalist futurism was this? It felt like the 1967 redesign of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, which Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened with in 1971 but which only exists today at Tokyo Disneyland—white concrete, sterile features. Even the bland landscaping in front smacks of a Southern California business park from the Carter years.
Magnum XL-200’s logo could have come right off the poster for Blade Runner, although this silver version installed for the coaster’s 20th anniversary in 2009 is pretty NASCAR looking too.
When I first saw a train depart the station, I got it; it all came together. NASA! The coaster trains are modeled like spaceship rockets of some generic type (again taking a nod from Disney’s Space Mountain), somewhere between Kubrick’s 2001 and the Space Shuttle. Also the reddish-orange steel track reminds of the Apollo gantry tower.
This Space Race theme makes total sense, as Magnum XL-200 opened as the world's tallest, fastest and steepest complete-circuit roller coaster—and the first with a height over 200 feet, ushering in the era of the hypercoaster. The ride’s opening also began something of a coaster arms race, of which Cedar Point was always at the forefront.
Finally, we have Arrow’s Corkscrew. After their prototype at Knott’s Berry Farm (which now resides at Silverwood Theme Park in Athol, Idaho) opened in 1975 and was the first modern roller coaster to feature inversions, Arrow built ten exact copies at parks across the United States during the next four years. For Cedar Point’s more custom layout, Arrow added a vertical loop—yet the ride barely missed grabbing the title of the first modern coaster to invert riders vertically, as Anton Schwarzkopf’s Revolution had opened at Magic Mountain just the prior week.
As for the station, I don’t know what this kind of architecture is called. But I’m going with “1970s Japanese Steakhouse Modern.” From the contours of the roof, to the stair railings, to the globe light poles; there’s just a styling here I can taste. And the flavor is definitely teppanyaki, post-Watergate.
The neatest touch I thought was this abstract logomark. Again it’s very of the era—the middle of the 1970s were probably the apex of the corporate identity movement which began in advertising in the mid-sixties. The concept for the Corkscrew and its inversions is given a simple line form; uncomplicated, terrific.
I didn’t find any ride logos or station designs of interest besides these three. The trend in more recent years has been to simply come up with a cool name for a coaster which will look nifty on a sweatshirt (and a logo that usually involves an animal and looks like a major sports team mascot), and the look of the station, trains, and even the terrain and landscape around a ride is not given much thought. This is not true across the board, of course, but I think bland coaster design is certainly the norm.
My final stop on the last night of my visit was the Melt restaurant off the Main Midway. Although Melt is an Ohio chain, the interior design of this location is a museum-quality tribute to Cedar Point’s long history. There are vintage maps, advertising, photographs, and other ephemera all over the place. But I was most taken with this very cool reception area, which is sort of a little chapel for the park’s ride logos, both current and retired.
Well that’s it for my design notes on Cedar Point. Next stop, the park’s relatively close neighbor—Kings Island.