March 20, 2021: On this day forty-five years ago, the very first Marriott’s Great America park opened to the public for the first time. That morning, growing crowds, pictured above, gathered outside the front gates eager to be among the first to experience this new Fun Country in Santa Clara, California. A little over two months later, on May 29, 1976, a second Marriott’s Great America would open to the public in Gurnee, Illinois.
Before the park’s gates opened to the excited fun seekers, an opening ceremony featured speeches from J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. along with other Marriott and government officials. Members of the park’s Continental Militia in historically accurate uniforms joined with legendary figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin to celebrate Marriott’s Great America’s opening day. The Great America marching band was on hand to provide rousing, patriotic music.
From opening day forward, the Santa Clara park has entertained millions while the Gurnee park has entertained even greater numbers of people. While the two sister parks went their separate ways under new ownership, both started out by setting new quality standards for regional theme parks. Marriott’s emphasis on authentic theming blended with the best in rides and food service, top-notch and unmatched variety of live entertainment, as well as innovative merchandise options provided an unparalleled guest experience.
Happy Forty-Fifth Anniversary, Marriott’s Great America!
This is the television commercial for the IMAX Pictorium at Marriott’s Great America. NOTE: The video is a bit unstable at the beginning of the commercial but it quickly stabilizes. This is the only copy that I have.
Late in the day on April 25th, 2018 I got the news that the Pictorium at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois was to be demolished. By the 27th of April, the Pictorium was pretty much gone.
Opened in 1979, the premiere film for the Gurnee Pictorium was “To Fly!”. The Pictorium at Gurnee’s sister park in Santa Clara had opened in 1978 with the IMAX film “Man Belongs to the Earth”. One of the first IMAX films, “To Fly!” was the premiere film for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. “To Fly!” has been showing there since the museum opened on July 1, 1976.
At Gurnee, the Pictorium was originally sponsored by Procter & Gamble. During the Gurnee Pictorium’s inaugural season, Procter & Gamble distributed thousands of gift boxes to guests who visited the Pictorium. The boxes included promotional materials and coupons for Marriott’s Great America and Procter & Gamble products along with items of interest to children, recipe cards, a detergent bottle pump dispenser, a sample bottle of mouthwash, and most importantly, a sample package of new Country Style Hearty Pringle’s potato chips (back when Pringle’s was still owned by Procter & Gamble and they still called them Pringle’s potato chips instead of potato crisps).
At the Gurnee Pictorium I saw my first IMAX film, “To Fly!”. The Marriott’s Great America Pictorium theaters featured the world’s largest IMAX screens at the time. Viewing “To Fly!” in the Pictorium was an exhilarating experience with the stunning visuals and amazing sound and music. It was definitely uplifting and inspirational. Fully air-conditioned, the Pictorium provided park guests with welcome relief from the summer heat and an opportunity to relax and enjoy the show. For years, the Pictorium drew large crowds, frequently filling to capacity.
Eventually, IMAX theaters in theme parks began to lose their lustre. Attendance at shows dropped off and more and more parks removed the IMAX projection equipment from their theaters. This would happen at both Gurnee and Santa Clara. Gurnee continued to offer non-IMAX presentations in the Pictorium such as the “Screams and Dreams” series, a set of documentaries covering the park’s history produced by the park’s entertainment department. The last presentation I saw in the Gurnee Pictorium was the first “Screams and Dreams” film in July 2011. As a contributor to that production, it was an incredibly special moment for me to see my name and website appear on the big screen in the Pictorium as the credits rolled. Accompanying me at that showing were Angie Lovell McAvoy, Kyle Smith, Danielle Lobello, and Kristopher D. Jones. I believe that Jeannie Forystek was there for that showing, too. I apologize if there’s anyone I may be forgetting. Unexpectedly as I went through the park, park employees gave me the rock star treatment. That day will always remain a cherished memory. The last time I actually saw the Gurnee Pictorium was in January 2016.
I’m definitely sorry to see the Gurnee Pictorium go. It had a great run. I’ll be posting more photos and information about the two Pictorium theaters in the future.
To view larger versions of these photos, click on any image below.
This poster for the Pictorium at Marriott’s Great America in Gurnee features an image from a scene in “To Fly!”.
Here is the IMAX Pictorium gift box from Procter and Gamble along with a sample of the contents.
January 2016: Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the last time I would ever see the Pictorium in Gurnee.
I am happy that you are here! The site has a whole new look. In addition, it is now mobile-friendly and encrypted for secure connections. The main site has been completely overhauled. The photo albums and galleries and the site forums are now mobile-friendly while retaining most of their legacy appearance. You can always return to the main site from any page in the forums and photo galleries. Please note that the forums are temporarily locked during this site transition period. I’ll announce when they are reopened.
There is not much new content here yet. Most of what you will see is the original content appearing in a much-improved format, including large featured images on all of the pages for rides. The important thing is that the new site serves as the foundation for lots more new content and features to come.
Welcome back and I hope to see you here often. It’s a GREAT day at GREATAMERICAparks.com!