If you’re driving down the 91 freeway, through Buena Park, you are guaranteed to spot the epitome of the Spanish Fantasy that cloaks the story of Southern California’s past, Knott’s Berry Farm.
From the beginning, Knott’s Berry Farm told the story that California wanted to create. Between 1927 and 1928, the early dawn of the economic depression in the United States, Walter Knott spent his entire savings to purchase 20 acres of farming land. The first permanent building placed upon this land was reflective of the glorified version of our Spanish past that we would like to remember, for the building was made from Adobe, an architectural style associated with the Spanish influence. The building itself featured a tea-room, a Berry market, and a nursery for the berries.
As a means to supplement the family income, Mrs. Knott began to make and market jams, jellies, biscuits, pies, and what would become her famous chicken dinner. These products began to attract crowds; however, those attracted were of a particular social and economic class. During and in the period right after the depression the working and even the middle class struggled to provide basic necessities for their families and make it through; therefore, the only group of people who could afford luxury items produced by someone else were members of the white upper class. Knott’s Berry farm was a place where customers could come to shop for luxury items and enjoy the company of those as fortunate as themselves. They didn’t have to face the realities of the economic downturn or see the faces of those struggling in poverty. They could rest easy knowing that they would not be plagued by the normal “burdens” of society.
As time passed and the Knott’s establishment grew more popular, the Knott family built attractions to entertain patrons of their farm, one of which was “Fiesta Village.” According to Knott’s Berry Farm’s website, Fiesta Village was created as “a tribute to California’s early Spanish heritage.” This heritage however, is California’s Spanish heritage as we would like to remember it. It is painted with Adobe buildings, bright colors, Spanish music, and sounds of celebration. It does not tell the true story of the Spanish influence, the story that involves missionaries seizing Native American lands and “civilizing” them in the manner they saw fit. This account of history is hidden, for it is not a history that paints our Spanish ancestors as the admirable characters we’d like them to be. The Knotts version of our history paints the Spanish as a culturally rich group who brought their culture to those inhabiting the land. This is the version that we like to remember, boast about, and commemorate; this is the history we created and cling onto.
Not only do the attractions promote the historical story we want to tell, the story of Walter Knott and the farm itself tells the story of the “California Dream” that we wanted to export to other parts of the nation. Walter Knott invested all of his money in 20 acres of land. He worked tirelessly and became a success. This was a story that would give others hope and attract them to a land of opportunity and possibilities, this was the California Fantasy.