It’s been 14 years since the Manteca Waterslides was shuttered, yet people still identify the city with the outdoor water park created when farmer Budge Brown had a big hole to fill after selling dirt for the construction of nearby Interstate 5.
If all goes well, Manteca will be back on the map as a waterslides hot spot when 2020 rolls around ending what will have been a 16-year drought without water flowing down slides luring people to frolic in the Family City.
Like the Great Wolf Lodge being built in Manteca, it too was accessible by taking the Airport Way exit. But instead of heading north it was a right turn south on Airport Way and then a right turn on Woodward Avenue. Less than two miles separate where the indoor waterpark will be built in Daniels Street and the former Manteca Waterslides site.
Brown, who has since passed away, was more than just a water park operator. Budge — along with his wife Arlene — were inducted in 2014 into the Water Park Hall of Fame. Budge is regarded as the father of the fiberglass waterpark slide. He was the first to build a modular fiberglass waterslide. Waterparks around the world have some version of his original design. He also built a number of waterslides for clients throughout California, Australia and New Zealand.
The couple opened the Manteca Waterslides at Oakwood Lake Resort in 1974 and operated it for 30 years before closing it on Sept. 26, 2004 due to sparing workmen’s compensation insurance and increased regional waterpark competition.
Some of the slides he created are still rated among some of the fastest ever built including the 80-foot V-Max that reigned as the tallest water slide in California.
The Browns started a sand mining operation at the location of his Manteca ranch of the western end of Woodward Avenue in 1970 where the Oakwood Lake Shores housing development is now located. When the pits started filling with water seeping in from the nearby San Joaquin River the couple opened the Oakwood Lake Resort campgrounds.
During a trip to Hawaii Budge became fascinated with a natural waterslide. The result was a 720-foot long concrete waterslide coated with epoxy that was the first installed at Oakwood Lake. He quickly crew frustrated wit the design as the concrete slide often caused riders to fall off their mat as and even occasionally came to a standstill. The prompted exploring other material such as fiberglass.
Oakwood at its pick employed nearly 500 people — all seasonal workers — with an annual payroll exceeding $1 million.
He farmed walnuts, almonds, grapes, alfalfa and other crops. In 1980 he became one of the first farmers to use drip irrigation in San Joaquin County. He opened Tulip Winery in 2000 in Nice in Northern California. Then after the death of his wife in 2005, he opened Cleavage Creek Winery in Pope Valley. He created world class wines as well as raised breast cancer awareness with 10 percent of profits funding alternative forms of cancer treatment. A generous donation from Brown and the Brown Foundation allowed Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., in 2009 to open an oncology research center.
Budge Brown was one of the founders of the San Joaquin Business Council and the San Joaquin Partnership. The Browns donated to St. Dominic’s Hospital while it was being built. They also made a significant contribution to the construction and operation of the Liga Eye Clinic in El Fuerte, Mexico.
It was noted by Vice Mayor Debby Moorhead at Tuesday’s council meeting before the Great Wolf deal was approved, that it was the closure of the icon the Browns founded that started a journey by the city to secure a waterslide attraction once again.
And like the Browns, they were inspired to go big.
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