Enchanted Forest Comes Of Age With A Shopping Center

Commercial Venture Enlists The Help Of Storybook Characters

March 29, 1992|By Alisa Samuels

Once upon a time in Ellicott City, the Three Pigs, the Old Lady in the Shoe and Humpty Dumpty delighted children in the Enchanted Forest.

On Friday, after three years of repairs, the former amusement park began turning new pages in an old book.

At 5 p.m., Safeway supermarket, Encore Books and Little Alexander's Pastaria and Bakery opened in the new 136,000-square-foot Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.

By summertime, the children's park and 30 stores in the shopping center, including Smythe Jewelry, a card shop and a cosmetic store, will be operating, said Jeffrey S. Pechter, vice president of the group that bought the park in 1988.

"We are thrilled," Pechter said of the $18 million project. "We thought this presented a good opportunity to provide a modern shopping center with the old characters of the Enchanted Forest for surrounding areas."

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the nursery rhyme characters drewup to 300,000 visitors yearly to the storybook-inspired park at 10040 Baltimore National Pike. On opening day in 1954, 20,000 people hurried to the new park.

"Maryland's answer to Disneyland . . . has proven to be a strong tourist lurer," Variety magazine said. Disneylandopened the same year.

But attendance dropped in later decades, mainly because of high-tech amusement parks like Kings Dominion, which featured thriller roller-coasters.

In December 1988, owner Howard E. Harrison Sr. sold the 32-acre park to Towson-based JHP DevelopmentInc. for $4.5 million. It's been virtually dormant since.

Unlike the old park, the new one will feature an 8,000-square-foot "Family Fun Jungle." Pechter described it as a family indoor entertainment area where children can play 20 games. Attendants will be present to help the children, he said.

Pechter said the theme park will be smaller than the original because of an agreement with the community and because space is needed for the shopping center. The price of admission has not been determined, he said.

The park will not feature rides, but children can slide down Old Lady in the Shoes' tongue and playamong other figures from the original amusement park, he said.

The park will target children 2 to 8, Pechter said.

After years of dormancy, the reopening of the park satisfies a need, some say.

"He's filling a niche here for kids," said Dave Lambard, one of the artists restoring the theme park. "Where in Baltimore can these kids go? There really is not a place," he said.

Parents will be able to shop for a variety of items before or after their children play.

Tenants said they, too, will benefit from the park and shopping center.

At Little Alexander's, owner Alexander Pagnotta was beaming with anticipation Monday.

"I think it's going to be an excellent store," said Pagnotta.

He said he spent four to five years searching for "the right spot" to open his restaurant.

"When I heard about this shopping center, I jumped right on it," he said. After playing or shopping, families can enter his Italian restaurant and enjoy a good meal, he said.

Across the approximately 700-space parking lot, in Safeway, the shopping center's anchor store, workers last week were busy preparing for Friday's opening.

The 53,000-square-foot store features a Canadian bakery with fresh, store-baked breads and pastries, a hot and cold deli, a fresh fruit and juice bar, and a pharmacy, said Bernie Mazer, the manager. The market relocated from 10111 Baltimore National Pike, he said.

"This is the most modern Safeway store" ofthe 147 in the Baltimore-Washington area, Mazer said.

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