Marriott’s Great America, Santa Clara Opened Forty-Five Years Ago Today

Crowds eagerly await opening day at Marriott's Great America, Santa Clara, CA on the morning of March 20, 1976.

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.

Bill Marriott and Senator John Warner at opening ceremony of Marriott's Great-America, Santa-Clara, CA
Senator John Warner looks on as J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. hands off the American Revolution Bicentennial flag to a soldier for raising. Warner, head of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, traveled from Washington, DC to present the Bicentennial flag and honor Marriott’s Great America on its opening day.
Left to right: Randall Duell, unidentified, David Brown stand outside Buffet Le Grand in Orleans Place on opening day at Marriott's Great America, Santa Clara, CA.
Left to right: Randall Duell, unidentified, and David Brown stand outside Buffet Le Grand in Orleans Place on opening day at Marriott’s Great America, Santa Clara, CA. Duell and his firm designed Marriott’s Great America, along with many other major theme parks across the country. Brown was the head of Marriott’s Theme Park Group and was a key figure in the development of the Great America parks.

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!