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Rides Silent at Kuwaiti Park Iraqis Trashed

March 27, 1991|DAVID FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KUWAIT CITY — The birds were singing and, for once, the sun was shining brightly. Were it not for the periodic thunder and concussion of Iraqi artillery shells being blown up by coalition forces a few miles away, it would have been a perfect day to bring the kids here to Entertainment City, Islam's answer to Disneyland.

But there were no gleeful children here Tuesday to ride the Oasis Express roller coaster or the African Boat Ride. There will be no children today. There will be none tomorrow.

Looted and ransacked by the soldiers of Saddam Hussein, Entertainment City is a trash-strewn ghost town, silent and eerie.

They even stole the carousel.

Of all of Kuwait's many evident wartime casualties, perhaps none was more pointless and grotesque than this. It was as if Mickey Mouse himself were murdered here.

A crumpled pamphlet found amid the vast piles of trash underfoot assures visitors that Entertainment City "will live in your memory forever--a blend of beauty and excitement that took years to devise and create."

Gutting it apparently took but a few days.

The Iraqis shattered windows and glass doors, overturned bumper cars and pried coin boxes from arcade games while removing virtually every electrical outlet and switch from every building on the park grounds.

Telephones were ripped out, their wires left hanging. Turnstiles were kicked over, scattering on the desert breeze seemingly hundreds of thousands of green ticket stubs. Food concessions were raided, display cases smashed. Computer cash registers were heaved onto the concrete after their contents had been scooped up by vandals on their way to Baghdad.

Also believed stolen were the hand-carved wooden horses of the Arabian Carousel. They were dismantled and apparently trucked to Baghdad, leaving behind an empty pavilion where they once galloped.

Then there is the smell of the place, putrid and festering--some of it from what little food was left behind in the park's concessions, some of it from the human waste left contemptuously by the departing Iraqis along the park's once-tidy walkways.

Spray-painted in Arabic on a wall of the Starlight Theater, where puppet shows were once held, the Iraqis have left behind a message: "Long live Saddam."

Such political messages were undreamed of here in 1977, when the Kuwaitis, realizing there were few recreational outlets for children in the emirate, contracted with VTN, a firm in Orange, Calif., to design and engineer an $80-million theme park with an Arab flavor.

VTN had helped develop Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and most other major amusement parks in the United States, according to the company's chairman, Dan Montano.

Construction began in 1978 on 220 acres on Kuwait Bay, just west of Kuwait city. Only slightly smaller than Disneyland, but with far fewer attractions, Entertainment City opened four years later--the first and only amusement park in the Persian Gulf.

The resemblance to Disneyland was not unintentional. Like its Anaheim cousin, Entertainment City was divided into themed sections: Arab World, Future World and International World.

On summer nights, after the punishing sun had set, thousands would flock to the park, each paying the equivalent of about $1.50 for admission and the same amount for each of the 16 rides.

Children could climb aboard the Arabian Carousel or enter the world of Sinbad the Sailor, an animated cousin to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. There was soft ice cream from Dairy Queen and pizza from Pizza Hut.

Parents, meanwhile, could relax in the air-conditioned Ali Baba Restaurant.

But when the Iraqis invaded, normal park operations ceased. Anticipating an American-led amphibious landing that never came, they dug 82-millimeter mortar fortifications and elaborate rifle pits on the park's fringe.

For seven months, soldiers had their run of Entertainment City. They swam in the fountains and lagoons, according to Kuwaitis, and blasted away with their AK-47 rifles at unseen targets.

VTN's Montano said that before the ground war began last month, U.S. military officials spent several days at his company's offices, studying detailed plans of Entertainment City. They seemed particularly interested, he said, in the park's 300-meter-high Space Needle ride, which offers a commanding view of the bay, where Hussein expected the Americans to land.

"They thought that maybe the Iraqis were using it as an observation post," Montano said.

As it turned out, the park had little military value--and the Iraqi destruction of it no military motive.

On Tuesday, men from the Tennessee National Guard began hauling the mortars away.

"They really tore this place up," one sergeant observed. "I guess they got bored 'cause there was no fighting."

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