Joyland restoration group to fold, donate $10,500 it raised

06/16/2014 2:34 PM

06/17/2014 7:23 AM

Kira Johnson remembers going with her dad from their Haysville home to visit Joyland.

Fond memories of those childhood days drove her to lead a project to restore the venerable amusement park established in southeast Wichita more than six decades ago.

But faced with busy schedules and having raised a fraction of the estimated millions of dollars it would take to complete the work, Johnson and her group have opted to end the effort about three years after it began.

“We’re not 100 percent sold on the fact it couldn’t be done,” she told The Eagle on Monday. “It’s just that all of our lives have taken on separate directions, and we’re so busy we’re not able to give Joyland what it needs to be successful.”

The decision was another chapter for the iconic park that closed in 2006.

Restore Hope Inc., a nonprofit, had raised a little under $10,500, Johnson said.

After money is reimbursed to those who have purchased park passes – one season pass and some daily ones totaling less than $100 – the remainder will be donated to Botanica and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County, she said.

Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear donated the merry-go-round to Botanica in early May. That same week the preservation alliance took possession of several of the items it had bought from Spear, including the animated neon clown sign that guided visitors from the parking lot to the entrance.

Funds from the dissolved Restore Hope can help pay for fixing up the Joyland items, Johnson said.

Restore Hope’s efforts were fed by a dream of a Wichita teenager, Alex East, who asked the City Council in 2011 for $10 million to bring Joyland back to life.

The council declined. But the movement grew to a handful of participants, including Johnson, who is Restore Hope’s board president.

Last month, the group said it wanted to hold public meetings to get input on how to save the Wichita landmark.

Those meetings were never held. Timing was a factor.

“We couldn’t align schedules,” Johnson said. “That was the hard reality.”

Meanwhile, pieces of Joyland have been taken from the site at 2801 S. Hillside, which has become a fading shadow of its bygone days when bright lights and children’s squeals of delight made it a main attraction in Wichita.

The wooden roller coaster – with its chipped, white paint – looms over the park like a ghost. Vandals and fires have left their scars, destroying some items.

Spear, who wants to sell the property, had requested that the preservation alliance begin taking possession of items it had bought for $22,000 in 2010. Most of the items had been sitting in a park storage building.

Last week, the Joyland street sign on Hillside that the preservation alliance had purchased came down. It was taken to the Garvey Public Warehouse where it was put with the alliance’s other Joyland items.

Alliance president Greg Kite said it was bittersweet to see Restore Hope fold.

“We certainly were in favor of their efforts,” he said. “We’re not in the business of running a carnival.

“The last thing we like to do is feel like scavengers that are picking up the remains. We detest that. But that’s better than having the items lost to the four corners of the Earth.”

He estimated it would cost $25,000 to $35,000 to restore the two Joyland signs that the alliance has.

The 18-foot tall “Old Mother Hubbard” shoe – among the alliance’s Joyland collection – needs a lot of work, but Kite didn’t think it would be expensive.

“It’s more hands-on restoring,” he said.

The group recently purchased the horse-and-buggy ride and has plans to buy another ride, Kite said.

Ultimately, the alliance would like to see the establishment of a “Lost Wichita” museum, which would display many of the Joyland items and artifacts from the city’s past, he added.

Other fundraising ideas for the alliance include setting up a former Joyland ride at the Riverfest or taking the rides around on a flatbed trailer.

“It would give people access to the rides again,” Kite said. “Our most urgent goal is to save these items.”

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