The Funtown amusement park was part of my childhood though so it was with many of the children living near Stewart Avenue and surrounding environs, much of which had been newly developed to accommodate rapidly growing baby boomer families. My Father had quick and easy access to the “Old” Atlanta Airport for his sales job. My Grandmother lived next to Perkerson Park and could easily reach her job at Fort McPherson in East Point. My Great Grandmother worked at the Nabisco factory in West End where the pleasant smells from the factory would hang over Sylvan Hills. My Father told me that a big part of the reason he picked Southwest Atlanta was for it’s proximity to the Airport and Downtown Atlanta either of which we could reach in minutes. Atlanta traffic jams were then a rare occurrence. We didn’t live very far away from Funtown and my Grandmother lived even closer. One could easily walk from her duplex on Cahoon St. down to Casplan which met Stewart Avenue. At one time there was a franchise of the now defunct “Lums” restaurant located at this intersection.
Funtown was an amusement park setup with a number of basic rides along with abundant amounts of carnival munchies such as cotton candy, peanut brittle, and candied apples. Their Roller Coaster was “The Wild Mouse” that was fairly tame even by standards of that time. Situated next to Funtown was a “Goofy Golf” putting course that was a source of amazement for me and my Brother who tried to navigate the twists and turns of various holes. On the other side of Funtown was the “72 Lanes” Bowling alley that included a skating rink in the back devoted to amusement and diversion for the children and teenagers of the area. At the Bowling Alley there was some serious area league action there during the week that attracted big name bowlers. I’m told that the land on which the Bowling Alley was erected ,as well as portions of FunTown, was once a large garbage dump although I haven’t been able to confirm that. In any case when viewed from a modern perspective the location of Funtown seems a bit odd though at the time travelers still used Highway 41 / Stewart Avenue as a route to Florida, which is also why the avenue featured plenty of motels such as The Alamo Plaza and The Old South. So given the flow of interstate travelers and the temperate Atlanta climate it made financial sense to offer family friendly roadside attractions and affordable overnight lodging.
It’s worth mentioning that across the street was a slot car racing center, (I doubt anyone under 50 would remember those), where hobbyists would showcase their “souped up” slot cars and expert racing skill. The location also hosted a “Shakey’s Pizza” parlor and much later the infamous “Purple Onion” strip club. Slot cars were motorized miniature replicas of popular racing vehicles. They had two metal brush strips under the front section that made contact with the grooves/slots in the track, which was responsible for conducting electrical power to the tiny yet powerful motor within the car. Power to the car was metered by a hand held controller which took considerable effort to get used to. While most people focused their energies on making their car look good it was quite a challenge to run your car around the track without “flipping it” over the side of a narrow turn. Some of the tracks were quite elaborate and they usually had “training tracks” for the novice in order to avoid irritating the veteran slot car racers who had something to prove. Observers would bet serious money on racing outcomes though it was technically not allowed. So if you weren’t a seasoned racer then you had to race on the “kid’s track”. There was also a slot car shop on Sylvan Road in the same lot as Hays and Weldon pharmacy.
Funtown was, well, fun, but each Fall there was serious competition coming from the nearby Great Southeastern Fair, which operated on a much grander scale. It offered a “midway” with far cooler rides, wild “freak shows”, and various “games of skill” that we failed to realize were rigged against the player. Their Roller Coaster was “The Greyhound” which was faster and scarier than Funtown’s “Wild Mouse”. The names alone tell the story. And there was also nightly fireworks and The Hurricane Hell Drivers who accomplished amazing automobile stunts at Lakewood race track. So once we had a taste of The Fair it became increasingly difficult to get excited about Funtown although the Fair was only once a year so there wasn’t much competition. The teachers at nearby Sylvan, Perkerson, and Hutchinson schools didn’t much care for The Fair because as the opening day approached us kids lost focus in anticipation. It didn’t help that The Fair organizers supplied free admission tickets to the schools to be distributed to the student body.
I enjoyed talking to the edgy carny types who would entertain us with stories of “world travels” and romantic conquests in exotic locations. If you slipped them a couple of bucks they would let you view the “peep shows” (they were a total letdown). Unfortunately the carnies could sometimes cross the line especially with women. As an example one year my Mother and her friend Barbara took myself and a school mate to the Fair. After having just checked out the “world’s largest rat” exhibit we sat down at one of the food tables to “cool our dogs” (southern speak for resting one’s feet). One of the greasy carnies, seeing two attractive women without adult male company, decided to try his luck. He was completely transparent though probably couldn’t be any other way since his work schedule put him in different cities every ten days. Still, he had no pickup game at all and, as the desperate will always do, went straight to his strongest material – or so he thought.
Leaning in closely, his blood shot eyes shifted from side to side as if about to disclose the identity of JFK’s “real” assassin and croaked, “I have it on good authority that Elvis is a homosexual” though his choice of words wasn’t as diplomatic. The statement hung thick in the air as did the smell of stale tobacco and discount whiskey. Now this was really dangerous information – not because it had any credibility just that there were plenty of people, women included, who would brutally assault anyone challenging The King in anyway at all let alone his sexuality. I once saw a guy get slapped off a bar stool for merely suggesting that Elvis had sung off key in a televised performance. My Mother , being completely unimpressed with this information stood up and said, “Okay then, time to go boys”. The carny couldn’t let it go, “Yea, why do you think he is friends with Jim Nabors” ? So then I wanted to jump in and correct him on that score as everyone knew that the real rumor was that Jim Nabors was supposedly very close with Rock Hudson – not Elvis. But mom hustled us out of there out of there towards the “Tilt-A-Whirl” ride which was temporarily out of service pending vomit cleanup what with centrifugal force sometimes having a bad effect on the stomachs of those binging on cotton candy, corn dogs, popcorn, and coke.
Being quite young at the time I was only vaguely aware of the changing racial landscape in the city of Atlanta and the Country but soon realized that something much larger was brewing with the emerging Civil Rights movement being spearheaded by a local preacher named Martin Luther King. In parallel we also heard talk at school (nearby Perkerson Elementary) of the hardcore stance assumed by Funtown’s owner who objected to the idea of allowing equal access to his facility. It all became clear to me one Fall at The Southeastern Fair when my Father recognized Braves Outfielder, (and Atlanta native), Mack Jones. My Father asked him for an autograph which he was happy to provide what with the Braves being brand new. Part of their exchange involved some discussion about how odd it was that he could be giving out autographs at The Fair though he would not be welcome at Funtown – even in the parking lot ! I do know that my family and many others stopped going to Funtown over this issue though I also believe that the writing was on the wall for Funtown once confirmation was received that Six Flags Over Georgia would be moving to town. The arrival and subsequent massive success of Six Flags basically obsoleted Funtown and later The Southeastern Fair.
While Funtown closed in the 60s (66 I believe) the 72 Lanes Bowling Alley and the skating rink (imaginatively named “Atlanta Skating Rink) persisted as going business concerns though the space once occupied by Funtown and Goofy Golf began it’s mutation into a set of urban ruins as left-behind parts of rides and jagged rusting signage were overtaken by growing kudzu vines. That process took a while and by the mid 80s it was wildly overgrown and largely ignored. I still drove by there frequently on my way downtown though as they say “familiarity breeds contempt” so I rarely paid any attention to it. In general it became easy to ignore as other parts of Stewart Avenue followed suit. The number of abandoned lots increased as once reputable businesses like Holton Dodge and Carusos restaurant departed for better territory. It’s odd to consider that the once family friendly Alamo Plaza Motel with it’s well attended Friday Night Catfish Dinner turned into one of the most notorious “No Tell Motels” in the region. The slot car racing shop turned into a Shakey’s Pizza and later a Steak house before becoming the infamous Purple Onion strip bar, which I will cover in another post. UPDATE: I ran across this link from the AJC about an activist group’s efforts to provide micro housing to homeless people some of whom were inhabiting the old Funtown space in 2002. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid