History of Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon

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Taking the family out to Oaks Amusement Park is an age-old tradition for many Portland residents and Oregonians, but there’s more to know about this local gem than what meets the eye.

Today we’re uncovering its history, revealing up some ups + downs of the rides and their construction, and exploring some little-known fun facts that just might make you look at this old oak with fresh eyes.

A trip back in time

On May 30, 1905, “The Oaks” officially opened to the public, making this all-encompassing wonderland one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States. Its opening came just two days before one of Portland’s biggest + only worldwide events in history that attracted 3 million visitors: the Lewis and Clark Exposition. The builders of both the amusement park and the exposition previously developed a neighborly competition to see who could finish and open first. It’s no surprise to us that those Oaks Park builders worked as fast + furious as the rides they built.

In its first season, this popular entertainment destination drew in a whopping 300,000 visitors with 10% of that crowd coming in every Sunday + on holidays. Back then, taking the Downtown Portland trolley to Sellwood was such a prominent way of getting out to the park that the railway company added fifteen cars that would run every five minutes.

Originally built by the Oregon Water Power + Railway Company, Oaks Park was predominantly owned by the Bollinger family for much of its history. The father + son duo also oversaw the building of a fellow well-known Pacific Northwest roller coaster — the Coaster Thrill Ride at the Puyallup Fair in Puyallup, Washington — after hiring famed coaster designer John A. Miller to build it.

A purple and blue roller coaster at Oaks Amusement Park

Do you dare ride Adrenaline Peak? | Photo via Jeremy Thompson

The rides 🎢

  • The Zip (1927-1934) — known for its sharp, rough turns that thrilled riders with dangerously close dips towards the water around the park. Removed due to maintenance being too costly.
  • Monster Mouse (1977-1994) — known for tight turns with wheels placed towards the back of each car, giving the sensation that it might fall off the track when changing directions. Removed for cracked tracks.
  • Looping Thunder (1996-2017)replaced Monster Mouse and was known for its 32 ft drop + 31.8 ft tall loop and was one of the first at the park to have extreme speed. Removed to be replaced with a newer ride after 21 years in operation.

Read more about all the old + current rides at Oaks Park.

People are roller skating at Oaks Amusement Park

Oaks Park has the largest roller skating rink in the country. | Photo via Another Believer

DYK ⁉️

  • Despite popular belief, The Oaks wasn’t the only amusement park in Portland’s history — in fact, it was the first of six + the only one to survive.
  • This park is often referred to as the Coney Island on the Willamette because of its West Coast location, being directly on the opposite side of the country’s upper corner.
  • The Oaks Park skating rink — also called a “skater’s paradise” — is the oldest in the country and the biggest roller rink west of the Mississippi.
  • Oaks Park has survived three major floods, including one of the biggest in history, The Vanport Flood, which wiped out Oregon’s second largest city of Vanport on Memorial Day of 1948.
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