By the middle of the 20th century, Polynesian — or “tiki” — culture had swept through the United States. The end of World War II, coupled with Hawaii’s burgeoning statehood and newly established air travel to the Islands, propelled the nation’s interest in all things tropical. So when an amusement park called Pacific Ocean Park opened in July of 1958 in Santa Monica, California, it made sense to have an exotic, South Pacific-themed attraction.
Called the Mystery Island Banana Train Ride, it was widely considered the park’s best ride and it predated another famous tiki attraction, the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, by five years. For a mere 90 cent admission, you could enter the sprawling park — which had more than two dozen rides when it opened, including the Sea Serpent Roller Coaster and Deepest Deep, which simulated a submarine voyage.
Mystery Island was located at the end of the pier, overlooking the Pacific ocean, which fit well with the ride’s overall theme. The ride had six rattan trains, each with two cars and one engine at the back, that traveled across a tropical island, replete with pylon-covered waterfalls, jungles filled with parrots and cannibals, bubbling volcanos, and caverns full of bats. During the ride, an earthquake would rock the train as it trundled across a rickety trestle bridge and passengers also traveled through a massive sea storm. At the end, an animatronic bird would announce when the ride was over.
Sadly, the park closed down less than 10 years after it opened. The city of Santa Monica began an urban renewal project on Ocean Park in 1965, which led to a lot of construction and closure of streets leading to the park. As a result, park attendance plummeted and so, too, did sales. Pacific Ocean Park officially closed on October 6, 1957, and today nothing remains of it, except for a few underwater pilings.
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