Friday, September 18, 2015


Originally Published September 9, 2015 in the Piedmont Post

Once upon a time, a group of kind villagers bestowed a magical gift on the children of their community. They called it Children’s Fairyland.

Now, on the occasion of our 65th birthday, please allow me to share with you – our special fairy godmothers and godfathers over the years – some of my musings, based on my 13 years at the helm of this very special place.

• On origins
World War II had ended. Baby Boomers were being born. Oakland was thriving. Members of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club recognized the need in Oakland for a safe, imagination-driven environment where children could create, imagine, play and learn.
The nation’s very first storybook theme park opened on September 2, 1950.

• On longevity
After Fairyland’s successful debut, hundreds of copycat parks opened. But only a handful remain. Over the years, Fairyland itself experienced hard times. The City of Oakland ran the park until the early 1990s, when it no longer could afford to do so.

Again, it was the community that came up with the idea of creating a dynamic public/private partnership that would be run by a nonprofit organization.

Thanks to this partnership, we have benefited from bond measures and received funding from foundations, corporations, and individual donors. The new funding enabled massive restoration, renovations, and the creation of new park features that build on our traditions.
In short, the park returned to its former glory – and beyond – thanks to you!

• On relevancy
To remain a vital part of our community, we’ve also had to break some traditions. Many families in our community – the ones who would most benefit from a language-rich environment – could not afford even our modest admission cost. So we actively sought, and found, ways to subsidize their visits. Now we welcome over 16,000 family members each year at no or low cost. We also partner with150+ community groups to support our youngest and most vulnerable kids and to nurture their imaginations and their love of books and learning.

Head Start and Transitional Kindergarten Days, a Junior Animal Caregiver Program for foster kids, horticultural therapy for autistic kids – these are just some of the ways we connect with our community. Many of our school programs are now expanded, with content aligned to science standards.

• On what will never change
Over the last 65 years, we have never lost sight of who we are. We remain a non-commercial, low-tech, child-centered place of simple pleasures and beauty for young children to create, imagine, play, and learn: a place where families can engage and bond.
Of course, our renowned puppet theatre and children’s-theatre program will always be part of the fabric of Fairyland, welcoming new generations to the joys of live performance!

• On the next 65 years…
We are enthusiastic about Fairyland’s future. We want to expand on existing partnerships and develop new ones. We want to maintain and increase contributed revenue in order to stay affordable and free for those in need. And because we’re showing our age a bit, we want to accomplish some much-needed facility improvements with lasting impact.

What a joy it’s been for me to wear the big wings at Fairyland, and how proud I am to have had the pleasure of working with you – our staunchest supporters – over the years. Thank you for caring so much about our youngest kids. Our mission is in good hands because of you!.

Before we blow out the candles on our 65th, consider what you wish for Fairyland, and please, give a birthday gift that will help it come true. You’re the reason we’ve never lost hope of a happily ever after.

To make a donation, please visit We appreciate every contribution, and we have some wonderful ways to acknowledge our thanks!

P.S. We appreciate donations of any amount!

Donor gifts of $65+ will be acknowledged on the giant birthday cake on display in the center of Fairyland during the month of September.
Donors of $650+ will receive one of our limited-edition, handmade sapphire metal commemorative keys, numbered 2 through 65 (while supplies last). Note: because of an extra coating they do not activate our Storybook Boxes.

The first donor of $6,500 or more will receive commemorative key number ONE!

Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland, America’s first storybook theme park, will celebrate its 65th birthday this month.

Happy 65th Birthday to Us!

-C.J. Hirschfield

C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry.  C.J. is former president and current board member of the California Attractions and Parks Association, and also serves on the boards of Visit Oakland and the Lake Merritt/Uptown Business Improvement District. C.J. writes a weekly column for the Piedmont Post and OaklandLocal, where she loves to showcase the beauty of her city and its people. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.