Forty-four years ago Jeff Brown and David Breitenbucher had the chance to be among the first to test the first waterslide ever built in Manteca.
The two — respectively 8 and 12 years old at the time — ended up with bloody elbows and ankles as Jeff’s father had them along with other boys repeatedly go down the first water slide built as the Manteca Waterslides so his crew could determine where water was going over so they could heighten the cement edges.
“Each time we came down we landed in gravel because the water wasn’t filled (to reach the base of the slide yet),” Breitenbucher recalled.
The slide was 100 percent concrete. Using fiberglass was an innovative concept that Manteca Waterslides would pioneer eventually earning Brown’s parents’ — the late Robert “Budge” and Arlene Brown — induction into the World Waterpark Association Hall of Fame.
On Thursday Brown and Breitenbucher were among those on hand for the groundbreaking ceremonies of Manteca Waterslides 2.0 — The Great Wolf Lodge — that is being built just over a mile to the northeast of where Manteca’s original waterslides once stood.
“I think this is awesome project for Manteca,” Brown said. “It will be a great economic benefit for the city.”
He praised the Great Wolf resort concept as did his father in 2010 when asked what he thought about the firm possibly locating in Manteca. Brown noted that when you take the cost of a Great Wolf room which is required to access the 90,000-square-foot indoor water park that’s being built it comes out to a per person per day cost that is comparable to a standard outdoor waterpark that is typically open only from mid-spring to the start of fall as opposed to year round for Great Wolf.
Helping test that slide as well back in 1974 were Brown’s brothers Robert and Mike. They were friends with Breitenbucher. All of them attended Nile Garden School together. Brown’s sisters — Kristi Brown and Shellie Hakeem — were apparently a bit wiser and avoided being used as guinea pigs of sorts while their father along with foremen Danny Olivas and Ted Lozano added concrete in places where the passing of the sliding boys sloshed water over the sides.
“When I got home (that day) I was so bloodied that my mother asked why I didn’t use the mat,” Breitenbucher recalled.
They actually had. It’s just that building waterslides was new territory for his father who up to that point had devoted his energies to farming, a gravel operation, as well as his just recently opened Oakwood Lake campgrounds.
The art of building waterslides is an exact science today that Great Wolf has nailed at its 16 existing resorts including in Anaheim.
Brown noted that when his father announced he was building a waterslide park that everyone in Manteca thought he was crazy except for Aldo Brocchini.
Now — 44 years later and 14 years after the waterslides closed — the Manteca Waterslides is still viewed by many as an iconic part of Manteca’s community fabric even though they have long been replaced by the gated lakefront Oakwood Shores neighborhood.
As Mayor Steve DeBrum noted in his speech before the ceremonial turning of the dirt, when residents travel out of state and are asked where they are from and mention Manteca they will still get people who say “I know where that is, that’s the place with the waterslides”.
How the Manteca Waterslides came about wasn’t via an exhaustive economic study, market analysis, and a financial feasibility if it were sent down a waterslide would make a major splash hitting the water. It was out of necessity as much as it was out of Budge Brown’s unique way of looking at possibilities.
He had supplied the dirt to the state to elevate Interstate 5 out of the floodplain when it was built. Both I-5 and the 120 Bypass as they approached the San Joaquin River were built in a manner they could be converted into emergency levees if river levees failed by plugging underpasses at McKinley Avenue, Louise Avenue, and Lathrop Road with dirt.
The county required him to do something with the giant hole that was created selling dirt for the freeway. He initially simply created a lake and opened Oakwood Lake campgrounds.
Shortly thereafter his family vacationed in Hawaii where he 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 that Breitenbucher helped test. He quickly grew frustrated with the design as the concrete slide often caused riders to fall off their mat and occasionally come to a standstill. The prompted exploring other material such as fiberglass.
Budge Brown 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.
As for Great Wolf, his son sees even bigger things coming Manteca’s way than Manteca Waterslides provided.
The Great Wolf
On hand for Thursday’s ground breaking was former City Manager Steve Pinkerton who handled the original talks with Great Wolf 10 years ago.
When the council decided to see if they could secure a waterpark for Manteca and wanted it to be an indoor park so it could provide year-round employment and economic benefit for the community, Pinkerton slipped on a Great Wolf wrist band that he vowed to wear until a deal was made.
He ended up passing it on to his successor Karen McLaughlin.
Current City Manager Tim Ogden knows of the band but did not take possession of it.
Ogden can, however claim to have visited Manteca Waterslides after moving to California with his family a year before the water park closed. He even went down the V-Maxx that was billed at the time as California’s tallest water speed slide noting it was a bit scary.
Mike Atherton with
idea for waterpark
Mayor Steve DeBrum noted the person who got the idea of Manteca securing another waterpark rolling was longtime Manteca developer Mike Atherton who was not in attendance at the groundbreaking.
Atherton and his partners such as Bill Filios played key roles in converting the shuttered 362-acre Spreckels Sugar refinery that had the potential to lapse into an albatross of blight around Manteca’s neck when other developers avoided it like the plague into the teeming Spreckels Park into the foundation for a wealth of redevelopment agency projects. They also have played key roles in securing Del Webb at Woodbridge, Bass Pro Shops and Orchard Valley, and Woodward Park among other things.