By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Thousands upon thousands of children have passed through the gates of Funderland, Land Park’s small-scale, old-fashioned amusement park for young children.
And despite its longtime identity issue, as it is often overshadowed by or confused with its neighboring Fairytale Town, Funderland actually predates Fairytale Town by more than a decade.
Another aspect regarding Funderland, which is located at 1350 17th Ave. in William Land Park, is that despite the fact that there are many people who are aware of Fairytale Town, but not Funderland, the ownership of Funderland actually contributes a portion of its annual gross revenue to the city of Sacramento for the support of Fairytale Town, the Sacramento Zoo and William Land Park. In 2010, for instance, Funderland contributed $178,606 to the city.
But certainly, there are plenty of people who are very aware of Funderland, which was originally known as Kiddie Land.
This is an obvious point, when considering that Kiddie Land/Funderland’s history dates back to 1946.
For more than 30 years, Kiddie Land was owned and operated by its founder Ray Silva (1910-1996).
A Sacramento native, Ray was the son of the Portuguese immigrant Charles Silva (1867-1944), who founded Charles Station, the area that later became known as South Land Park Hills.
In having such a self-motivated, hardworking and business-minded father (read the Charles Silva story at www.valcomnews.com/?s=charles+silva), Ray was led by example, as he developed his own successful life.
In addition to operating Kiddie Land, Ray, who was one of 11 children, also refereed collegiate and American Basketball League (a forerunner to the NBA) games, and later, from 1944 to 1955, he was a referee for the Harlem Globetrotters.
During his last year with the world-famous “Trotters,” Ray did his own globe trotting with the team, as he refereed games in Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and many parts of Asia.
Two years following his decade with the Globetrotters, Ray, along with local businessmen, John Silva (not related to Ray) and Edwin A. Beers, founded the Miller Park boat harbor on the Sacramento River.
Ray was also on the planning committee for Fairytale Town, which opened in 1959, and he donated the complex’s pirate ship “in memory of the Charles F. Silva family.”
In his earlier years of life, Ray worked for the city’s recreation department as a supervisor of playgrounds, and in 1928, he founded the Southside Athletic Club, which was an organization dedicated to promoting sports for youth.
Ray, who was a member of the Dante Club soccer team that won the Northern California championship in the 1930s, also played an important role at the California State Fair, as an assistant manager in charge of racing, tickets and rentals from 1931 to 1942.
About a month prior to his 26th birthday on Aug. 16, 1936, Ray married Rosalind Fraser, who had been crowned the first Miss Sacramento a year earlier.
Ray and Rosalind’s only child, Raelyn (Silva) Paige, who was born in 1941 and owned Kiddie Land from 1978 to 1983, said that her father opened Kiddie Land with only a merry-go-round.
Ray later added about eight other rides that furthered the amusement park’s reputation as a favorite destination for many Sacramento children.
Sacramento native Don Conner said that he may have visited Kiddie Land as early as 1949, considering that he was born in 1947 and that some of his earliest memories in life are of visiting Kiddie Land.
“I remember going (to Kiddie Land) with my father (Elmer) and on some occasions my mother (Jessie) and my sister (Marcia) would also go,” Conner said. “They had a set of railroad tracks with a miniature train and a conductor with one of those striped, railroad hats and it just went around and around a loop. I also went on the merry-go-round, which was right near the front entrance. It was always delightful with lots of things to distract one’s attention.”
Conner also recalls the other attractions in the area, which included Eddie Fernandes’ pony rides, fishing in the park’s lake and the William Land Park Zoo, as the Sacramento Zoo was then known.
Stan Bento, a 1970 graduate of Christian Brothers High School, worked at Kiddie Land during summers while he was still in high school.
Bento, who noted that Ray emphasized safety and cleanliness at his amusement park, said that rides during this era included the merry-go-round, the railroad, the fish ride, a boat ride and the Tubs of Fun.
The Tubs of Fun were manufactured by Hampton Rides of Portage Des Sioux, Mo. and the carousel was built in 1948 in Buffalo, N.Y. by Allan Hershell.
Remembering these rides is no problem for Bento since he spent time working at each ride.
“We (the workers) would have rotations and we would stand by each ride and I think every hour or every 45 minutes we would rotate to different rides,” Bento recalled.
Among the other Kiddie Land workers during this time were Christian Brothers High School students Kevin Fleming, Mike Fleming and Dennis Bertacchi.
In 1984, carnival operator Sam Johnston purchased Kiddie Land through an auction and after operating the park in its original state, he replaced most of the old rides with completely new rides, which led to a re-grand opening of the amusement park in 1990.
Newer rides at the park include the Flying Dragon roller coaster, the Log Run water log ride and the Crazy Cups ride.
Funderland also includes miniature buildings, which Johnston added throughout the amusement park’s grounds.
Johnston’s history with Ray dates back to 1958, when he helped his father – also Sam Johnston – and Ray put in an amusement facility in Micke Grove Park in Lodi.
In recent years, Johnston’s son-in-law John Dedds has managed Funderland with his wife, Ashley.
Prior to this time and for about three years, Johnston’s other daughter, Spring, managed the amusement park with her husband.
Johnston, who is known for his easy going demeanor and infectious smile, which are both good qualities for a man who operates a place called Funderland, said that he has enjoyed his years at Funderland.
“I’ve got a lot of enjoyment out of providing a safe recreational amusement facility for the children of Sacramento and I want to continue carrying on the tradition that Ray Silva started,” Johnston said. “I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked a day in my life. I love it here.”
Funderland’s summer hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
For additional information regarding Funderland, call (916) 456-0131 or visit the Web site, www.funderlandpark.com.