Utah History Encyclopedia


By John S. McCormick
Lagoon is an amusement park located within the city limits of Farmington in Davis County, about eighteen miles north of Salt Lake City, approximately halfway between Salt Lake and Ogden. Bamberger's Salt Lake and Ogden Railway Company built it in 1896 to stimulate passenger traffic following the completion of tracks from Salt Lake to Farmington the previous year by its predecessor, the Great Salt Lake and Hot Springs Railway Company.

Amusement parks, including Coney Island, were established throughout the United States in similar fashion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1908 the "Bamberger Line," as it came to be called, was extended to Ogden, and in 1910 it was electrified. Bamberger was a prominent businessman who came to Utah in 1870, initially engaged in the hotel business, made his early fortune mainly from the mines of the Tintic District, was active in politics, and in 1916 was elected the state's first Democratic governor.

The 40 acres on which Lagoon was located--it has since grown to 150 acres--included a small body of water (according to some accounts a reservoir, while others called it a Salt Lake City ice company's pond) from which it took its name. Bamberger bought most of the original buildings from another resort, Lake Park, that had been located 2.5 miles to the west on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad had built that resort in 1886; Bamberger held a 25 percent interest in it and was the resort's vice-president. It had closed following the 1895 season when receding lake waters had left it surrounded by mud and far from the water. The cupola of Lake Park's dancing pavilion--designed by Richard Kletting, best known as the architect of the original Saltair (1893) and the Utah State Capitol Building (1915)--is the only part of an original building remaining at Lagoon.

At its opening Lagoon advertised "Bowling, Elegant Dancing Pavilion, Fine Music, A Shady Bowery and Good Restaurants." Since then other attractions, typical of those found at amusement parks throughout the country, have been added. At one time or another, Lagoon has offered hot-air balloon rides, boxing and wrestling matches, great names in entertainment, horse racing and pari-mutuel betting, roller-skating, baseball games, dancing, swimming, bicycle racing, a zoo, motion pictures, live theater, blackface minstrel shows, rodeos, a midway, rowboating, marching bands, wild West shows, fireworks, and mechanical rides.

The first "thrill ride" was the "Shoot-the Chutes," a distant cousin of today's log flume, in 1899. Swimming in the lake began the next year. A merry-go-round, featuring forty-five hand-carved wooden horses, and still in use today, was added in 1906, a roller coaster in 1921, a swimming pool, with a sandy "Waikiki Beach," in 1928, and a fun-house in 1929. A fire on the night of 14 November 1953 destroyed much of the park, but it was quickly rebuilt and continued to expand--in contrast to its chief rival, Saltair, which closed permanently after the 1958 season. In 1968 the Lagoon Opera House, a 300-seat theater, was added; in 1976 Pioneer Village, a collection of historic buildings and artifacts purchased the previous year from the Sons of Utah Pioneers; and in 1989 a $5.5-million, 4.5-acre water park, "Lagoon A Beach."

The Bamberger family operated Lagoon until 1946 when, following its closure for several years during World War II, they leased it to the Utah Amusement Corporation, with Ranch S. Kimball as president and general manager and Robert E. Freed as secretary and assistant manager. It previously had been leased for ten years, from 1918 through 1927, to the Amusement Concession Company. Gradually, other members of the Freed family became involved in Lagoon's operation, and in the 1970s their Lagoon Corporation bought the resort. They continue to operate it today, with Peter Freed as president. Currently Lagoon has a year-round, full-time staff of 135 people and a summer work force of about 1,200; its annual payroll is about $4 million. Its primary market is the Wasatch Front, but it also reaches secondary markets--primarily the rest of Utah, southern Idaho, and southwestern Wyoming--and about 20 percent of its patrons are from out of state.