Pronto Chowpalace

On June 21, 1971, Hersheypark’s first branded restaurant opened. Pronto Chowpalace was set up in the Outdoor Rink behind Hersheypark Arena, which was attached to the chalet which was home to first aid and Rides Office. (This building was replaced with Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge in 2006.) The brand was Pronto Foods, which was based in Chicago and acquired by Hershey Foods Corporation (today, The Hershey Company) in 1970.

History of Pronto Foods

In 1961, Norman Chapman founded Portion Control Industries, Inc. (PCI), as a specialized food processing company. They produced frozen foods and other items under the brand name Pronto Food Corporation. The company was based in Chicago, Illinois. Pronto was a major player in the market – to the extent that there were some predicting that the Pronto model of specialized food processing may even replace chefs.

Pronto Food Corporation [Maryland Trademark] (p1523)

Pronto Food Corporation trademark listing in the state of Maryland.

In 1968, Hershey Chocolate Corporation changed its name to Hershey Foods Corporation, signaling a shift in the company’s focus. The following year, Hershey Foods expressed interested in purchasing PCI. On November 12, 1969, the two companies reached an agreement. The merger was then completed in May 1970.

Chapman then became the first “outsider” – meaning that he was based in Chicago rather than Hershey – to be placed on the board of Hershey Foods Corporation. This occurred on December 10, 1970. Chapman would then go on to have a second career as an investment banker, forming Chapman Partners in 1995. Chapman died on April 11, 2008, at the age of 80.

A branded restaurant

In 1970, R. Duell and Associates was hired by Hershey Estates (today, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company) to create a plan to renovate Hersheypark. The plan wouldn’t be formally approved until December 1971, with the idea of the 1971 season being a test season. R. Duell provided a number of ideas for park management to consider for the 1971 season.

One such idea was for Hersheypark to have a branded restaurant – something seen in recently constructed theme parks such as Six Flags Over Texas. With the Pronto Foods brand now part of Hershey Foods, that became the obvious choice to be added in Hersheypark.

The location chosen for this restaurant was the Outdoor Rink behind Hersheypark Arena. The Outdoor Rink was an ice skating rink that the Hershey Bears used for practice during the fall and winter months. During the summer time, it was just a concrete pad with a roof.

The [restaurant] will give the impression of eating on a patio with its open sides covered with a roof for protection from the elements.

— Lebanon Daily News, June 21, 1971

Pronto Chowpalace

Pronto Chowpalace opened on June 21, 1971, a little over two months into the season. There was enough seating for 1,200 visitors, according to an official park spokesman. The Chowpalace served Pronto hot sandwiches, Pronto fried chicken, and beverages. They also had one dessert item: a strawberry shortcake.

The reaction was generally very positive to the food and the options, while the biggest criticisms were that there weren’t enough food options, and that service was slower than expected. In 1972, the park purchased some convection ovens so they could have more food choices. This included a variety of Pronto platters, sandwiches, french fries and onion rings, and a few other options. The beverage options and dessert were identical to what was offered in 1971.

The money spent on improving Pronto Chowpalace was apparently not worth it – sales sharply declined in 1972. This decline was based on the general reaction that the food was really bad. Park management found this to be inexplicable, because the quality of the food didn’t seem to change (for them) between 1971 and 1972.

1972 Welcome to Hershey [map]

1972 map of Hersheypark, printed in a pocket-sized Welcome to Hershey brochure. You can see “PRONTO CHOWPALACE” below Hersheypark Arena and above Der Deitsch Platz.

At the end of the 1972 season, it was decided that the Pronto Chowpalace concept was a complete disaster. It was not brought back for the 1973 season. While this first attempt at having a branded restaurant ultimately failed, it did not scare management away from having other brands come into Hersheypark. For example, in 1976, the park would add a Welch’s pavilion (located where Simply Chocolate is today).

To read more about the restaurants / food stands in Hersheypark, click here

Hersheypark in 1971

When Hersheypark opened for the 1971 season on April 18, 1971, things were quite different. The park was gated, and there were five entrances around the park’s perimeter. Even the name of the park was different, as the park went from being named “Hershey Park” as two words, to one word: “Hersheypark.” (I’ll be writing more articles about Hersheypark in 1971 and 1972 in the future.)

One thing Hersheypark did not do this season was produce a map of the park.

As a result, I recently decided to make my own version of a 1971 map of the park. This hypothetical map is based off the map the park produced in 1972. The work that went into making this was pretty intensive, but it was a lot of fun.

The hardest part was definitely putting Miniature Railroad on the map.

Here is my map of Hersheypark, 1971.

1971 Hypothetical Map [FINAL]

This is a hypothetical Hersheypark map of the way the park was in 1971. I made this map based off the 1972 map, which was the first one Hersheypark produced.

What Could Have Been | Hersheypark in 1974

In mid-1973, Hersheypark was facing two issues – the 1973 Oil Crisis and cost overruns from the first two phases of renovations. While the 1973 season would become the first season Hersheypark saw over 1 million visitors, the economic crisis and cost overruns forced park management to reconsider the plans R. Duell had provided to the park.

1972-09-30 Lebanon Daily News (pL10)

Phase 3 was due to be completed in 1974 – initially including a PA Mining Town, Tower Plaza and an Indian Village. The Indian Village concept was pushed from Phase 3 even before the R. Duell plan was completely modified.

When Hersheypark officially modified the R. Duell plan in the fall of 1973, it resulted in the postponement or cancellation of nine rides scheduled to be installed in 1974. Three of those seven were postponed: Twin Turnpike Antiques, Twin Turnpike Sports, and Kissing Tower. In fact, Kissing Tower was already being built and was eventually delivered to Hershey in 1974 – the ride remained in storage for nearly a year before it was constructed for the 1975 season.

The six rides cancelled were Rhine Land Express, Rhine River Boat, Minetown Tram, a Tree House Slide, a Windmill ride, and a Speedramp.

Rhine Land Express (#2202) and Rhine River Boat (#2203) were transport rides that connected Rhineland to two areas of the park. The Rhine Land Express was a re-installation of the Miniature Railroad, which had operated in the park from 1910-1971. Rhine River Boat was a boat ride originally intended to be installed in 1971. Both rides would have had a station in Rhineland, with the river boat taking you to a landing in the Hollow (what was to be themed as New England Coastal Village), and the Express taking you to Minetown.

Minetown was the area surrounding Coal Cracker, and the plan was to place the Twin Turnpike (#5202 & #5203) in that area, with the Kissing Tower (#5205) going in Tower Plaza, where the Penny Arcade was. A Sky Ride station (#5119) was planned for Minetown, which was not cancelled and opened for the 1974 season. A tram ride (#5204) and a tree house slide (#5113) were also planned for Minetown.

1972 circa Hersheypark Ash Tray (Duell) [large]

This glass ashtray primarily depicts the Tower Plaza, Der Deitschplatz, and New England Fishing Village theme areas, as proposed by the R. Duell plan for Hersheypark. This ashtray was sold in the park, circa 1972.

In the Animal Garden area, Trailblazer (#5206) was planned to be constructed – which it was for the 1974 season. However, it had initially been planned to be part of an Indian Village themed area. In the end, Trailblazer ended up not being part of any theme area until 1985. A windmill kiddie ride (#5606) was planned in the area (this was a kind of kiddie Ferris wheel). Hersheypark had been set up to purchase a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Speedramp (#5207). This was intended to connect the Animal Garden to the area where Cuddle Up and Whip were, as well as the proposed Tower Plaza.

A variety of structures were planned to be built, and the Penny Arcade wasn’t slated for removal, but renovation (the renovation was logged as #5124) to fit in with the Kissing Tower and Tower Plaza theme. A remodel of the arcade was intended, as well as a wholly updated restaurant, with a waterfall built underneath the restaurant. An ice cream parlor (#5302), juice bar (#2303) and a grill (#5305) were also intended. The proposed renovations to the Penny Arcade were valued over $1.1 million dollars.

A new structure was intended for the Animal Garden – an Animal Amphitheatre, where shows with animals would be held.

When the R. Duell plan was modified, the Minetown and New England Coastal Village theme areas were indefinitely postponed. Minetown was eventually incorporated into the park in 1990. The New England Coastal Village concept was never revived. Tower Plaza was added to the park in 1975. Rhineland only received one ride – Sky Ride. Beyond that no rides were ever installed in Rhineland, and Rhineland had no rides after Sky Ride was removed from the park after the 1991 season.

Magic Carpet Giant Slide

Installed in 1969, Hersheypark had a giant slide built on the side of the Hill. This slide was only in the park for four seasons, removed after the 1972 season to make way for Hersheypark Amphitheater. 

1969-04-25 Lebanon Daily News (p21)

Advertisement. Lebanon Daily News April 25, 1969, page 21.

Magic Carpet Giant Slide was manufactured by Aero-Mar Plastics, Inc.. It had 15 slides, in which a person slid down using a sack of some kind, usually burlap. When installed, Tip Top was relocated to accommodate the new slide. The giant slide was adjacent to Paratroopers.

1970 Lebanon Daily News - April 27.jpg

When Hersheypark experienced the Flood of 1972 in June of that year, Magic Carpet Giant Slide was not destroyed in the flood. Only one ride was – the park’s mill chute ride, Lost River.

1970 ca Hershey Park Magic Carpet Slide (see comments)

Magic Carpet Giant Slide from circa 1970. Paratrooper was just to the right of the slide, just out of frame in this image. 

Following the 1972 season, Hersheypark intended to relocate the nearby Bandshell to the new Rhineland area of the park. When the Bandshell was found to be too structurally weak to move, it was torn down.

The replacement for the Bandshell was Hersheypark Amphitheater, and the park decided to place that where Hershey Park Theater had been. Magic Carpet Giant Slide was removed, while Paratroopers was relocated in the park.

Click here to read more Throwback Thursday posts. 

Monster [Hersheypark] | 1972-1982

The Monster was a ride manufactured by Eyerly Aircraft Company. It was installed in Carrousel Circle in 1972 and was removed after the 1982 season.

The Monster was one of several types of rides Eyerly made for amusement parks. A very similar model to the Monster is the Spider. Spiders had 2 cars per arm, while Monsters had 4 cars per arm (Monster sets of four cars also spin, unlike the Spider). They were operationally the same, with the center of the ride manually controlled by an accelerator, and the “eccentric” – what made the arms go up and down – controlled by its own accelerator.

There was only one load position for each arm, meaning the ride had to be rotated to load and unload people from the ride. As a result, it took a long time for a cycle to start from loading the first car to the twenty-fourth. Hersheypark also experienced maintenance difficulties with the ride. Between these two issues, the park decided to replace the Monster with a Sellner Manufacturing Tilt-a-Whirl for the 1983 season.

Here is a video of the Monster, from 1975.

To see more Throwback Thursday posts, click here