— by Elizabeth George
In July of 1964, Never Never Land joined the Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Fort Nisqually, and the natural beauty of 5 Mile Drive, as yet another reason to visit Tacoma’s northern peninsula. For almost 50 years, Tacoma locals and out-of-towners alike passed under an 8-foot Humpty Dumpty sitting atop an archway of giant books. The spines of those books described the wonderland into which visitors were about to stroll: “The Land of Mother Goose”, “An Enchanted Forest”, “Fairytale Fantasy,” “Never Never Land.” I think it is safe to say that a vivid picture of this grand entrance lives in the collective memory of those who spent their childhood, or raised children, in Tacoma in the last 50 years.
Visitors of the park walked trails tucked amongst the towering trees of the Point Defiance forest. Meandering through the woods, they beheld staged nursery rhymes and storybook scenes brought to life with colorful fiberglass statues and painted stucco structures. These exhibits included the stories of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and Jill, Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, and many more. Perhaps one of the most adored attractions was the slide shaped like a giant shoe-house, a reference to “The little old woman who lived in a shoe.”
Never Never Land was created by Alfred Petterson, a Canadian who moved to Tacoma shortly after the opening of his first theme park, the Wooded Wonderland in Victoria, BC. Never Never Land and Wooded Wonderland were nearly identical, and Petterson later went on to build a third version in Ontario, also named Never Never Land. While the Ontario park only operated from 1967 until the late 1970s, Tacoma’s Never Never Land remained in operation up until 2001, and subsequently left dormant until 2010 when the last of its structures were finally removed and placed in storage.
Never Never Land proved to be expensive and laborious to keep running. Decades of Pacific Northwest weather and the perpetual dampness of the forest floor took its toll on the fiberglass characters and their cottages. Petterson and his business partners, including Tacoma investor John Hewitt Jr., were eventually run out of business and forced to sell Never Never Land to Metro Parks in 1985. Metro Parks kept the park running, charging admission until 2001. At this point, the park became open to the public with no admission charge. In its final years, few of Never Never Land’s original exhibits remained standing in the park (most were previously removed due to vandalism or deterioration). In 2010, the final two mold-ridden structures were demolished: The Little Old Woman’s shoe slide, and Humpty Dumpty’s giant stack of books.
The fiberglass character statues were held in storage in the Pagoda at Point Defiance, and most were tragically destroyed in the 2011 Pagoda arson fire. Humpty Dumpty, however, was supposedly stored in a separate facility and still exists, according to Metro Parks spokesperson Nancy Johnson, who was interviewed for a South Sound Mag article published in 2019. There is also said to be a collection of statues from Ontario’s Never Never Land, which are identical to those that were in the Point Defiance park, residing eerily in the basement of Hewitt’s downtown Tacoma office, according to a 2018 Grit City Magazine article.
Never Never Land may not be lost forever. Father and son duo Dave and Brandon Mitzel dream of bringing Never Never Land back to life, and have been hard at work since 2019 to make this dream come true. According to their website, they have spoken with Metro Parks Tacoma in hopes of reopening in its original Point Defiance spot, however Metro Parks has denied them permission to use any Metro Parks space as reopening Never Never Land does not fit into their 20-year plan. They are currently searching for another park space to host the nostalgic family attraction. There is a discussion forum on their website where the community can post their suggestions, as well as their own fond memories of the original Never Never Land.
Would you like to see Never Never Land again? Or are you content to revisit it only in your memories? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Elizabeth George grew up in Gig Harbor and moved to Tacoma at 15 to attend the Tacoma School of the Arts. She graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2019 with a Bachelor of Media Studies degree. She is passionate about learning and sharing Tacoma’s history.
3 thoughts on “Remembering Never Never Land”
I was born in Tacoma in 1961 and was the fortunate recipient of what Never Never Land had to offer young children. The place brought my imagination to life and will forever be a fond heartfelt memory. It was my favorite place to visit. The combination of reading nursery rhymes and having the visual three dimensional experience created a forth dimension experience. Priceless!
Maybe the park in Gig Harbor Sehmel Homestead Park would be interested to have in part of the park .