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Terranea to host Marineland reunion


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Posted by Max Bottomtime on September 21, 2010 at 19:34:38:

Terranea to host Marineland reunion
By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer
More than 20 years after Marineland of the Pacific closed, the 15-month-old Terranea Resort is hosting a reunion for former employees and fans of the theme park.
On Saturday, Terranea Resort hopes to draw onetime Marineland visitors and former workers to reminisce at a daylong event at Long Point.
Gaye Vancans, Terranea's community relations director, said the free event is a way for the 15-month-old resort to honor the site's past.
"For us, it's an obvious thing. We're very respectful of the legacy of this land. And we've come to understand, as we've gotten to know this community, how important Marineland was to them," Vancans said.
Once home to Marineland's stadiums and tanks that showcased dolphins, killer whales and seals, Long Point now draws vacationers to Terranea's 582 rooms, spa, golf course and multiple restaurants.
It was a transformation many years in the making.
When it opened in 1954, Marineland was just the second oceanarium in the world and it once held the largest collection of marine life in the United States, according to a local history published in 2005. At that time, the Palos Verdes Peninsula was much less populated, and a trek to Marineland was an adventure for many young animal lovers in Southern California.
Bubbles, the first pilot whale to survive in captivity, was brought to the theme park in 1957, attracting
millions of visitors. Ten years later, Marineland began capturing a series of killer whales from the wild. Corky and Orky survived and became famous.
But with the rise of Anaheim's Disneyland and Sea World in San Diego, Marineland's ticket sales began to decline. In 1971, the park was sold, later changing hands several times.
In 1986, publisher and Sea World owner Harcourt Brace Jovanovich bought Marineland for about $23 million. It was a rocky relationship.
After promising to keep the park open, the company abruptly shut it down in 1987, shortly after Corky and Orky were secreted overnight to Sea World. Many Marineland fans saw the removal of the killer whales as a wounding betrayal.
"Maybe the drama of its closing added to that mystique, but certainly there is a tremendous spirit and attachment that people have to Marineland," Vancans said.
The site was bought by an Arizona-based developer and eventually the park was torn down. Afterward, the 102-acre property was purchased by Lowe Enterprises, which worked for more than a decade to build Terranea for $480 million.
Leonard Aube, now executive director of the Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation and a former Marineland employee, had a contract to photograph the park's demolition.
"It was bittersweet," he said.
A South Bay native who is now guiding Annenberg's controversial effort to erect an animal-themed education center at nearby Lower Point Vicente, Aube worked at Marineland for eight years, ultimately in marketing.
"The Sky Tower came down; the tank that held Orky and Corky came down," Aube remembers. "Generations worked there. ... With one stroke, it was just gone."
But many employees - and Marineland attendees - retained vivid memories of the park, which in photos seems to typify a distant, simpler Southern California.
"I loved it. Best job I ever had," said Torrance native Lance Jaakola, now a captain with the Hermosa Beach Police Department. "When I woke up, I looked forward to going to work. It was just a happy place to be - because we were entertaining people."
Jaakola, whose wife works with Aube, began his nine-year career at Marineland at age 16, directing traffic. He ended up training the marine animals.
It was a tight-knit group of employees, he said. Aube first met his wife at the park.
On Sunday nights, staffers would play beach volleyball under the lights in Redondo Beach.
A handful of reunions have taken place over the years, including one three years ago that marked the 20th anniversary of Marineland's closure.
Fred Shafer, the theme park's warehouse manager for the final seven years, organized that event in San Diego. The reunion drew about 150 former employees, who were able to visit Corky and Bubbles at Sea World, Shafer said.
"When Terranea opened up last year, I go: Now it's time to get people back up to the property," said Shafer, who became a trainer at Sea World and now works with the Navy's marine mammal program.
On a visit to Terranea earlier this year, Shafer said he heard many resort-goers talking about Marineland.
"There was just such interest in it. The spirit is just really alive up there," Shafer said.
Shafer approached Terranea officials about a Marineland reunion; they readily agreed.
Saturday's event does not commemorate a particular anniversary -the park will have closed 24 years ago in February - but Shafer wanted to hold the reunion soon because former employees are aging.
Having broadened the invitation to anyone who wants to reminisce about Marineland, Shafer expects a crowd of several hundred.
Attendees will be given a map showing the location of Marineland's highlights, and they can do a walking tour of Terranea to visit those sites.
At 1 p.m., the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro - the product of a post-Marineland agreement between Harcourt and the Los Angeles Unified School District - will release rescued seals into the ocean at the beach below the resort. Arts and crafts will be offered for children.
The Meadows area of the resort grounds will offer fair-style food for sale, and the nearby Admiral Risty will have a buffet lunch.
From 2 to 5 p.m., Palos Verdes Estates-based nonprofit Freedom4U will present a jazz concert. Proceeds will go to the Marine Mammal Care Center.
At 5 p.m., attendees are encouraged to go to happy hour at Nelson's, the resort's seaside casual restaurant.
Special room rates will be available, starting at $205.
Jaakola and others said they were looking forward to returning to their old haunt, despite its dramatically different look.
"It'll be nice to be on the site of the old Marineland and be up on the cliff at Nelson's, looking out at the same view I used to see when I was doing the show," Jaakola said. "That's going to bring back memories."

melissa.pamer@dailybreeze.com




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