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Terry Van Gorder, father of Magic Mountain roller coasters, dies at 82

Posted: April 20, 2016 7:57 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2016 7:57 p.m.
Terry Van Gorder Terry Van Gorder
Terry Van Gorder

Terry Van Gorder, who turned Magic Mountain into the roller coaster destination it is today, has died at age 82.

Van Gorder was born in Palo Alto, Calif. on Aug. 19, 1933, to Ellis and Catherine (Terry) Van Gorder. He graduated from Yale University in 1955, later completing the United States Navy’s Officer Candidate School.

He was stationed in Adak, Alaska, and Guam during his service in Naval Intelligence.

He came to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1964, hired by Newhall Land and Farming Co. to help design and build the Valencia Golf Course.

He stayed on to design the Vista Valencia and Vista Chica golf courses.

Then in 1971, Van Gorder was tapped to improve the rides and landscape at Magic Mountain, Newhall Land’s first and only venture into amusement parks.

Van Gorder installed the first major roller coaster, Revolution, in 1976 and followed it two years later with Colossus, also opened under Van Gorder’s direction. He became CEO of the amusement park, and later created Indian Dunes Motor Recreation Park, a motorcycle park along Highway 126 in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“He did a lot for this area in just 15 years,” said longtime resident Tony Newhall. “He made a great impact for a single individual and created things no one expected.”

Van Gorder left the Santa Clarita Valley after facilitating the sale of Magic Mountain to Six Flags in 1979. He went on to become the president and CEO of Knott’s Berry Farm, where he created Camp Snoopy, the Kingdom of Dinosaurs, Big Foot Rapids and other major attractions.

“He did wonders turning that place around,” Newhall said.

Van Gorder and his wife, Elaine, moved to Cottage Grove, Ore., after his retirement in 1998. Van Gorder was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Ellen Wilton, and his son Kurt Van Gorder.

He is survived by his former wife, Priscilla Lowe; son Eric; daughter Catherine; son-in-law Ed Faciana; two grandchildren, Floriana and Guitano; and two great-grandchildren, Declan and Sienna. He is also survived by his wife, Elaine Roberts.


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