Business abandonment is not unique to America but we seem to do more of it then most countries: car plants close, shoe and textile factories go still and their work sent to some jungle shop, downtown merchants abandon character rich locations for a suburban box, and talented people quit their talent thinking there is no destination for their work. There may be some kind of cowboy wisdom that drives our penchant for abandonment, something that says if your horse is dead, well then− you might as well get off and ride another. But I think abandonment occurs when we fail to balance our imagination with realistic calculation. Turn too far in one direction and your head fills with wooly fantasies. Lean off on another course and you spend your life color coding your day planner. In either case the dream fails because expectations never arrived and it is then that the owner quits. What is left behind is the industrial undercarriage of what was and perhaps what might have been.
This proclivity to abandon dreams and leave things behind has long fascinated me as a visual thematic.
I’ve observed that a quit business undergoes a human like death process. There is rigor mortis, a time when the closed business is still and stiff, appearing as if it could return to life momentarily. But this ‘born again’ moment does not happen, decay happens, and the facility steadily rots out to archeological ruin. In between rigor and ruin, and before the vandals advance decay through post mortem breakage, I try to find the visually significant, the art within.
I got to Rock-a-Hoola just in time. The water slides have already been stripped from the park and sold less some intenerate trespasser decides to ride a skate board to injury or worse. What remains is the true undercarriage, the visual elements bare of activity and commercial purpose. Pagoda like slide cradles march over a man made hill, windblown desert brush fills the wading pools, boarded up art-deco buildings invite the artist to decide on color or monochrome approaches. In this detritus of a business quit I found patterns of fabric, tiles, pipes, lattice skirted billboards, cloud decks, towers, and tanks. My goal here was not to document each of the remaining elements or to provide a visual tour or time line. It was to find the visual story within the decaying industrial undercarriage. By way of background, Rock-a-Hoola is about 135 miles north of downtown Los Angeles on I-15. In the late 1950s John Robert Byers and his wife Dolores decided to add a man-made lake to their humble campground property in Newberry Springs, a small desert community near Barstow, CA. The campground soon became a popular destination when the Byers added slides, swings, ziplines and a trapeze, attractions that some considered as Water Park thrill rides. Word of mouth and late night TV commercial advertising in LA resulted in the park's most successful years— the late '60s to the mid '80s. Eventually, the popularity of the park waned and it closed for the first time in the late '80s.
In 1990 Terry Christensen and two financial partners bought Lake Delores. A frequent visitor to Lake Delores, Christensen had a vision for upscale 1950’s-themed water park and his LLC invested 3 million dollars into the concept. With help from local businessman and civic leader Spike Lynch, who was instrumental in the design, construction, and ongoing day-to-day management and oversight of the park—Terry Christensen's vision came to fruition. Boasting a catchy new name, an attractive new theme, new water rides, and the world's longest "Lazy River" -- "Rock-A-Hoola" waterpark (the park's name is based upon the song from the 1961 Elvis Presley/Angela Lansbury film Blue Hawaii) officially opened on July 4, 1998 to the constant sound of 50's/ 60's-era Rock and Roll music.
I spoke with Spike Lynch, and it seems that Christiansen was the neo-cortex of Rock-a-Hoola. Unfortunately, the extensive financial commitments from Christensen’s partners were fantasy. Without full funding, the critical elements for a destination oasis resort with an on-premise RV Park and hotel for year round operation failed, and public interest in standalone water parks waned. After only three seasons of operation, the park filed for Chapter 11 and later Chapter 7 in 2000. Christiansen died in 2009.
The Park stopped, closed, and then with a new owner opened again. New owners pumped in $400,000 of renovations and on Memorial Day in 2002 a new "Discovery Waterpark" opened. For the next two years the facility operated Thursday through Sunday with marginal results and during 2004, the last season of operation, the water park operated on an intermittent basis before finally closing for good. After 50 years of open and close, stop and start, Rock-a-Hoola quit— the dream, the business irrevocably abandoned.