In 2014, Levi's Stadium opened in an area that once served as a parking lot. Due to the subsequent need of the theme park's remaining parking space for those attending San Francisco 49ers games and other events at the stadium, California's Great America is now closed on 49ers game days.
The park, though profitable, was still an earnings disappointment for Marriott, leading the company in 1983 to explore options to sell. An interested party, Caz Development Co., appraised the land value at US$800,000 to $1 million per acre. Marriott also involved the city of Santa Clara in negotiations, which was already leasing 55 acres (22 ha) of parking space for the amusement park. Fearing development of the land by Caz Development would aggravate already congested roadways, the city council approved a $101 million purchasing agreement on January 31, 1984, by a 4–3 vote that also had to be approved by city residents. The city-wide vote passed, approving the sale by a margin of 3 to 1. Caz Development then sued the city and Marriott in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County to block the transaction. The court nullified the sale, forcing the city to attempt to salvage the deal through negotiations with the other parties. Unable to broker a timely agreement, the city council voted 6–1 to scuttle the sale on February 5, 1985, though the city was still interested in owning the park. After Marriott refunded a $20 million down payment back to the city, negotiations were restarted. All parties were able to agree on a compromise, which was signed in marathon sessions taking place in early June 1985. The city acquired the park for $93.5 million from Marriott, which retained 20 acres (8.1 ha) from the sale for development. Caz Development settled and was allowed to build a hotel and office near the park, which the city renamed Great America.
Kings Entertainment Company, who owned and operated other amusement parks, was hired in 1985 to manage Great America for the city. In 1989, the city decided to return the park to the private sector and sold it to Kings Entertainment. In the agreement, the city would earn 5% of all revenue that exceeds $56 million.
Three years later Paramount Communications (formerly Gulf+Western), the owners of Paramount Pictures, sought to join other entertainment companies as a theme park owner. The company acquired Kings Entertainment, owner of three parks including Great America, and one other park for $400 million and created Paramount Parks. Viacom, the parent of MTV Networks (including Nickelodeon), then bought Paramount in 1994, allowing Nickelodeon theming and merchandise into the park as well. During the Paramount era, attractions from the Action FX Theatre, Nickelodeon Splat City (later Nickelodeon Central), Drop Zone Stunt Tower, Invertigo, and many more modern thrill ride attractions were added in. Unfortunately because the park was literally landlocked being in the center of Silicon Valley, several rides including the classic train ride and the Sky Whirl, a Marriott's Great America signature attraction, were removed to make way for newer attractions.
In its last years as a Paramount Park, Great America was co-owned with several broadcasting stations in the Bay Area, including KPIX-TV and KBCW.
Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (2006 – Present)
Logo used in 2006. This logo is still seen on the litter bins in and around California's Great America.
After Viacom and CBS Corporation split, Paramount Parks became part of CBS. The merger did not last long, as CBS announced plans to sell the theme park division.
Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. announced in May 2006 that they are acquiring the amusement park division from CBS. The transaction includes licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Paramount, providing the park the option to retain its Nickelodeon and Paramount theming for several years.
On October 25, 2007, Cedar Fair renamed the park California's Great America. For the 2008 season, the park saw the addition of a Huss Rides top spin ride called FireFall, a new ice show in the "Great America Theatre" (formerly The Paramount Theatre), and the addition of the Halloween Haunt event to the park.
On January 27, 2011, the park announced Invertigo would be removed and relocated to Dorney Park, another Cedar Fair property.
On September 19, 2011, Cedar Fair confirmed reports that California's Great America would be sold to JMA Ventures, LLC for $70 million in cash. The sale required approval by the City of Santa Clara, and its city council was scheduled to vote on the matter on December 6, 2011. Cedar Fair, which purchased the park in 2006, expected to use the cash proceeds from the sale to reduce its senior secured debt. However, on December 6, 2011, JMA Ventures cancelled its plans to purchase the amusement park. In the same announcement, Cedar Fair also verified that a long-term agreement was reached with the San Francisco 49ers regarding parking and construction of a new stadium adjacent to Great America.
Invertigo: A Vekoma Invertigo shuttle coaster, was North America's first inverted face-to-face roller coaster. Invertigo was one of the tallest roller coasters in Northern California; however, it was not the fastest. Invertigo was removed due to reliability issues; topped by three breakdowns that made the news. As of May 2013, Invertigo is now known as Stinger at sister park, Dorney Park.
Skyhawk: An Intamin Flight Trainer that was rumored to be removed for its maintenance issues such as clear canopies on the cabins that would frequently fall off mid-ride. Skyhawk was replaced with the Three Point Challenge basketball game.
Whizzer: Originally named Willard's Whizzer, the original steel family roller coaster was made by Anton Schwarzkopf. Whizzer was removed because of maintenance issues and declining popularity. Gold Striker and Xtreme Skyflyer were eventually built on the site.
Trolley Cars: In early years, Trolley Cars traveled in the Hometown Square area and other parts of California's Great America.
Dolphin and Seal Show: During the Marriott era, dolphins and seals were kept to do daily shows. The show was removed when Paramount took over, and today it's now known as Peanuts Playhouse Theater.
Smurf Woods: A Smurf-themed small kids area with small Smurf mushroom houses. Today, this area is now Planet Snoopy.
Cajun Carpet: A large rotating platform ride located near the Orbit and Rip Roaring Rapids.
Fast Lane is California's Great America's virtual queue system. For $45, visitors get a wrist band that enables them to get to the front of the line on eleven rides and two shows without queueing. Other patrons discourage its use with dirty looks and snide comments.
Halloween Haunt is a seasonal event at California's Great America. It had a "teaser" maze in 2007, but officially began in 2008 and is patterned after other Cedar Fair haunts such as Knott's Scary Farm and SCarowinds. The annual Haunt includes over 500 monsters placed in various haunted mazes and scare zones throughout the park.
For 2014, Halloween Haunt features eight haunted mazes, three scare zones, three shows and two haunt attractions. It also features a new addition: Skeleton Key. It gives guests with the Fright Lane pass an extra room to go through in 5 mazes. These rooms are interactive.
2014: Flight Deck re-painted red and white, Grizzly Loading Dock painted red and white (there is a public campaign pleading with management requesting they please don't paint the grizzly like everything else in the park has been over the years, it is supposed to be wood, and paint always looks terrible after a few years ), Fun TV added to most rides, Grizzly re-tracked and new flooring in Carousel Columbia. Picnic Pavilion make-over, and new entrance from the parking lot. All 6 Drop Tower cabins operating, and KidzVille Shooting Range removed for birthday party area. All Day Dining Pass and new food options added. Halloween Haunt expansion with more monsters, two new Haunted Mazes for 2014, and one new Haunted Attraction. Werewolf Canyon and Slaughterhouse: Annihilation mazes removed. The Overlord is removed as Haunt icon. Skeleton Key is added, giving 5 mazes a new interactive room.
2012: Several park improvements such as a repaint of Carousel Columbia, Demon and Flight Deck. ADA improvements including an elevator lift entrance for Loggers Run and Vortex. Also, The Grizzly is retracked, Fast Lane. Construction commenced on Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, in the former Great America overflow parking lot., Construction of 2013 attraction, Gold Striker (wooden coaster), in former Whizzer site, and Halloween Haunt expansion,
2011: Invertigo removed to be sent to Dorney Park; Three new live shows. Halloween Haunt Expansion.
2010: Planet Snoopy (Retheme of Nickelodeon Central); Hanna Barbera references removed in KidZville; Panda Express
2008: Park is renamed to California's Great America; FireFall; Dora's Sing-Along Adventure; Endless Summer On Ice show; Halloween Haunt
2007: Park is renamed to Great America; Great Barrier Reef Wavepool added to Boomerang Bay; Ed Alonzo Misfit of Magic; Twistin' to the '60s Show
2006: Tiki Twirl (Formerly Survivor: The Ride); Park is sold to Cedar Fair
2005: Boomerang Bay expansion to include lazy river, two other waterslides and a large swimming pool.
2004: Boomerang Bay is added including a complex of children's water slides/play area, a 4 person adult raft/tube ride, a two-person inner-tube water slide and a fully enclosed two-person inner-tube water slide. Triple Play is removed
2003: SpongeBob SquarePants 3-D in the Action Theater; Nickelodeon Central (expansion of Splat City); Stealth (flying steel coaster) is removed and sent to Carowinds as Nighthawk
Though appearing under the name "Wonder World", Paramount's Great America was used as the theme park in the 1994 film Beverly Hills Cop III (itself released by Paramount Pictures).
Writer Steven E. de Souza originally wrote the story as more “Die Hard in a theme park”. He was told that each of the rides he had designed would cost about $10 million to build and the whole film would cost about $70 million. When box office results for The Distinguished Gentleman came in, Paramount ordered the budget to be cut to $55 million.
Some modifications were made to the Columbia Carousel and Vortex roller coaster. Most of the Sky Whirl stunts were filmed in a studio. In this scene, George Lucas has a small part as the man Axel cuts in front of to get on the ride, also known as 'disappointed man' (this can be seen in the credits). The tunnels that supposedly ran under the park are a myth as well. No tunnels run under the park, as many thought after this was released. Many rides that were seen in the movie including Triple Play and the Sky Whirl (now a roller coaster) have since been removed. Also, the carousel at the back of the park (a single story one, not the Columbia Carousel) was altered. The single story one was removed for Drop Zone. The ride featured in the rescue scene at the park was Triple Wheel (formerly known as Sky Whirl). Since the movie was made, the ride has been demolished and scrapped.
The Alien Attack ride featured in the Wonder World theme park was in fact the Earthquake: The Big One attraction from the Universal Studios Florida theme park in Orlando, Florida. The "aliens" featured in the ride are suited actors (and not animatronic as suggested in the film) which closely resembled the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica.
California's Great America was featured in a 2007 Excedrin commercial with the park's inverted steel coaster, "Flight Deck", as the main star.
Marriott's Great America was used in the 1983 George Lucas and John Korty animated feature "Twice Upon A Time". It was used both as a background for animated scenes and for a short live-action shot at the end of the film.
There have been a number of notable injuries and accidents at California's Great America, some of which are listed below. Please see Incidents at Cedar Fair parks for additional information on these and other incidents.
In 1980, a 14-year-old boy was killed and several others injured on the Willard's Whizzer roller coaster.
In 1989, two boys intentionally jumped out of the Loggers' Run ride. One was killed and the other fell onto a platform and was injured.
In 1991, two couples were injured on the Yankee Clipper as their boat hydroplaned then capsized, leaving the riders temporarily trapped under the upside-down boat. The attraction was later modified to include a bump at the bottom of the drop in order to prevent hydroplaning.
In 1998, after riding Flight Deck, a 24-year-old Spanish-speaking man, who could not read the English-language warning signs, entered a locked, gated area underneath the ride to retrieve his hat. He was hit by the foot of a passenger on the Flight Deck train and later died. The passenger suffered a broken leg.
In 1999, a 12-year-old boy fell to his death on Drop Tower after slipping from the ride's restraints which were still locked at the end of the ride.
On July 12, 2007, a 4-year-old boy drowned in the Boomerang Bay's Great Barrier Reefwave pool.