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Gurnee - Pre-Opening

Share your memories of working at Marriott's GREAT AMERICA in Gurnee

Gurnee - Pre-Opening

Postby Grantn » Tue Feb 08, 2011 7:29 pm

I've been reading through these forums with great interest. I was an original employee at Gurnee. I started 3-4 weeks before the park opened to the public. A friend on mine got a job in the services part of the park and said they were still looking for craftsman in the theme part of the park. My hobby was woodworkering so they hired me as an apprentice wood carver. I worked out of the shop in Yukon territory that had the wood, tobacco and pottery shop combined. There were two apprentices and a master carver. In fact I am in that historic opening day photo -

Things I remember that I don't see in other threads -

I remember being assigned to one of the shops (Import Shop I think) and turned loose to open all these exotic crates with shipping stickers from all over the world. We were to unpack all this exotic and beautiful merchandise and set up the shop the way we thought it would look best. We were a bunch of high school/college kids with little supervision. It was like Christmas. Every crate held something very cool and exotic. We did this for most of a week. It was a blast but we took it very seriously.

The next week we rode rides for 8 hours a day and got paid for it. The ride operators needed experience handling guests and the people in the merchandising group were the elected to play the role. A whole week of nothing but riding rides. I remember by Friday I had enough. I also remember when the bumper cars were turned on for the first time they were WAY too fast. Kids were getting ejected from the cars and sent to the hospital.

The next week the ride operators came through the shops with fake money so we got a chance to use the readers and cash registers and work with "guests". For all of those pre-opening weeks the food concessions provided lunches for almost nothing. Pizza slices were $.25 I think. Drinks for $.10. Gave the food group a chance to practice making the food, handling the people and money.

Once the park opened I remember on the slow nights sometimes the potter would carve wood and I would throw pots. In turn, Bob our local artist (he always set up outside our shop) would draw caricatures of us (see below).

We felt it was a very special place back then. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but by the end of the summer I was getting a bit burned out carving wood 8 hours a day. If it wasn't for the crowds of upbeat and enthusiastic guests it might have been different.

Anyway, a caricature/portrait of me in the summer of '76 sitting outside my wood shop whittling-

Image
Last edited by Grantn on Mon Oct 13, 2014 8:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gurnee - Pre-Opening

Postby jimmy gimbels » Thu Feb 10, 2011 6:56 am

Yes, there were some very slow nights until GA caught on. Sometimes the Grand Music Hall would have like 25 people in the audience...all sitting towad the back. I remember Marriott Management being worried that theymight have made a very expensive mistake building the park. But soon the crowds came. Boy were the prices ever lower in 1976! Free parking with tram service, too.

Back then the gift shops were amazing. People would come to GA just to shop. Every area had themed shops with speical merchandise. Remember the man carving the totem poles? Ah, those were the days.
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Re: Gurnee - Pre-Opening

Postby Grantn » Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:15 am

jimmy gimbels wrote: Remember the man carving the totem poles? Ah, those were the days.


For some reason I don't remember that. I thought the totems were carved only in Santa Clara and shipped to Gurnee. I don't remember them being carved locally, but I may have missed that.
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