On the outskirts of Golden, on your way to Red Rocks, stands a big arch to a tiny theme park – Heritage Square. What can I say? Giant arches provoke my curiosity and admiration. I’d long wanted to see what gem was nestled away in the foothills behind the arch. I began my investigation on the internet.
Wikipedia notes it as “one of the world's foremost and best-preserved examples of Storybook design.” This is an unusual form of architecture that was meant to bring the arts of stage and cinema to real life. It's also the earliest known attempt to expand the idea of a theme park beyond Disneyland. Begun in 1957, it was originally called Magic Mountain. It was designed by the Hollywood art directors who worked on Disneyland, and was built by the original vice president of of Disneyland, C.V. Woods Jr.
Bizarrely, the Heritage Square website mentions none of this interesting history or architecture. What they do advertise is a “one of a kind train”, a dinner theater in the melodrama style, and “Colorado's best alpine slide.” It remains to be seen whether they will continue to maintain this title now that the alpine slide in Winter Park has opened.
The website also boasted that they’re open year round. A drive by confirms the assertion that shops are indeed open, as proclaimed by a little wooden sign. The entrance is in actuality open. We walked through. But don’t be deceived. Heritage Square is most definitely closed during the week in the winter.
It was a frigid, snowy day when my Midwestern guest and I decided to take the plunge and see what this little park was about in person. We cruised through a rather vast, unplowed parking lot only to be the second car. A narrow path had been shoveled up the right side of the broad steps.
Naturally I expected the carnival rides to be closed. It’s only safe. The cutting wind drove me to shelter in the first shop I saw. Unfortunately it was also closed. As was the second and third, and almost every shop in this tiny storybook ghost village.
The only exception was the little western photo studio. And while I’ve been hankering after a western photo for a while, and the potential warmth of the studio was enticing, the prices were a little high for an otherwise dismal visit. Their best deal was a baby in a bucket shot for $18. And I don’t have a baby.
Truth be told, I’m still fascinated by this weird little park. It seems to have just the right combination of carnival, obscure historic architecture, old-timey photos and big slides to be right up my alley. Just not in winter.