The Excelsior Amusement Park opened on May 30, 1925 on Decoration Day (now more commonly known as Memorial Day). It is said that 20,000 people visited the amusement park on opening day. The streetcar from Minneapolis delivered visitors to the amusement park, which was located where Maynard’s Restaurant, Bayview Event Center/Bayside Grille and The Gables Condominiums stand today.
Well-known amusement park owner Fred Pearce spent $250,000 to build the Excelsior Amusement Park.
Known as “Mr. Rollercoaster,” Pearce built 27 roller coasters at amusement parks across the country. However, the “Mountain Ride” at the Excelsior Amusement Park was designed by John A. Miller. It had half a mile of track and was 65 feet tall at its highest point.
Extensive dredging was done in Excelsior Bay to improve the shoreline and add acreage for what would become the site of the Excelsior Amusement Park. Pilings were also added to support the attractions at the amusement park, which closed in 1973.
Standing on 16 acres of land, the Excelsior Amusement Park offered many rides, including the rollercoaster, a carousel, scrambler, chair-o-plane, tilt a whirl, Ferris wheel, caterpillar, boat rides and a miniature train. It also had a fun house with a rotating floor, revolving barrel, slide and house of mirrors.
High wire acts, loop the loop bicyclists and men jumping into flaming water tanks entertained visitors at the Excelsior Amusement Park. The star of WCCO’s children’s show "Axel and His Dog" (Clellan Card) also made appearances at the amusement park’s Laff House.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the “Mountain Ride” rollercoaster is not at Valley Fair in Shakopee. After the Excelsior Amusement Park closed, the rollercoaster was demolished in 1974. However, it is true that the carousel and the scrambler were moved to Valley Fair, where they still operate today.
The Excelsior Amusement Park was a popular destination for company events, school field trips and picnics. In an effort to encourage families to visit the amusement park, they also hosted events where free transportation, lunch and rides were provided to orphans and newsboys.
The very active publicity department at the Excelsior Amusement Park did a great job of hosting events that would encourage visitors, which included beauty pageants, concerts, picnics and giving away free ponies.
The dance pavilion at the Excelsior Amusement Park featured many famous musical acts, including Lawrence Welk, the Beach Boys and Tommy Dorsey. In 1964, the Rolling Stones played for 283 people who attended their concert at Danceland.
Over the years, visitors to the amusement park dwindled. The Excelsior Amusement Park closed on Labor Day in 1973. Fred Pearce and his fellow investment partners opened Valley Fair in 1976.
The archives at the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society (ELMHS) include posters and other promotional items from the Excelsior Amusement Park, as well as journals with first-hand detailed information about the amusement park. They also published a book entitled "A Picture Book of the Excelsior Amusement Park … from Rise to Demise 1924-1973."
For more information, visit www.elmhs.org.
The ELMHS Museum in the old Excelsior Depot on Water Street has many artifacts from the Excelsior Amusement Park, including a car from the rollercoaster. A ticket window from the amusement park stands outside the museum along the Southwest Regional LRT Trail.
Stephanie Larsen grew up in Minnetonka and now lives on Lake Minnetonka with her husband and two children. She loves sharing information about the history of the Lake Minnetonka area with others.