I recently had the pleasure of taking a backstage tour of Happy Hollow’s famous Puppet Theater and I must say, it was a dream come true. I grew up watching Happy Hollow’s puppet shows from the tree house that once stood facing the theaters castle façade. I jumped at the opportunity to step over the castle walls.

The Puppet Theater just before its renovation.
Puppeteer, Justin delights crowds in front of the newly renovated Puppet Theater.

There are very few legitimate puppet theaters still around and we are lucky to have two in the Bay Area; at Happy hollow and Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. Puppetry is an ancient art form that pre-dates film, animation and even legitimate theater. Although puppetry is not as widely practiced as it once was, it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity through stage productions such as Avenue Q and the Lion King as well as in films like the recent Muppets movie.

Puppet Theater Supervisor, Kimy Martinez and Puppeteer, Justin Imamura gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the Puppet Theater. The love they have for their work is evident; Kimy glowed with excitement while showing me the fine points of puppeteering. Justin was eager to point out all of the recent technical improvements and innovation that goes into each performance. It is important to remember that Happy Hollow is funded by the City of San Jose – I’m amazed at what they have been able to accomplish with the somewhat limited resources they have.

Kimy demonstrates the use of a puppet.
Justin and Kimy point out new renovations to the theater.

The Puppet Theater, along with the rest of the park, went through a major restoration a few years ago. Even more recently, the theater was outfitted with new computer controlled LED lighting fixtures as well as new sound equipment which have been a major improvement for the puppeteers.

Backstage, a small handwritten note reminds puppeteers that the audience is #1.

All of their puppets are created by in-house artists, the quality of their puppets is just astounding. I was introduced to a variety of different puppet styles which utilize an array of different puppeteering techniques to give each character a unique personality.

The Puppet Theater at Happy Hollow has been a South Bay staple for generations and it is the passion of puppeteers like Kimy and Justin that will keep this tradition going for years to come.

There are puppets everywhere backstage!
Patriotic puppet.
Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk
Love this purple guy
The shelves backstage are crammed with puppets
People puppets

I consider the Puppet Theater at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo the quintessential entertainment venue for families with young children in the Bay Area. So, the next time you have a sunny weekend free with the kids, take them to Happy Hollow for a puppet show instead of parking them in front of the TV all day!

The newly renovated Crooked House!

There a number of landmarks which live in the hearts of many long-time Bay Area residents; The Winchester Mystery House, Alcatraz, The Golden Gate Bridge, Peralta Adobe…La Victoria Taqueria. Yet, the Crooked House stands as a cherished reminder of childhood for so many people who’ve grown up in the South Bay.

The Crooked House just before its renovation. Notice the metal slide.

I can remember, as a kid, climbing to the top of the topsy turvy two story house and sliding down a hot metal slide over and over and over again. When Happy Hollow closed its doors in 2008 for its extreme makeover I feared that the Crooked House would be a victim of progress. Thankfully the decision was made to preserve this treasure rather than demolish it. Unfortunately when the park re-opened the house was deemed unfit for guests – there it sat, closed, for several years until its grand re-opening just a few days ago. With the help of the City of San Jose, Santa Clara Fire Fighters, donations from supporters, and funds raised through special events, the Crooked House will continue to be a source of joy for children for generations to come.

Guests of all ages can enjoy the Crooked House
The staircase is now safe for guests
Original Crooked House sign has been preserved.
A nice thank you to the donors
Safety first

The house sports a new paint job, a brand new orange plastic slide as well as a number of special surprises which are new to the house! A massive tree trunk now shoots through the center of the house and is home to three charming miniature dioramas, all hand-crafted at the park. The house has been refurnished with new Toontownesque furniture and themed carpet that has been padded for safety. The walls have been repainted and detailed with real vintage wallpaper and carnival mirrors. The attention to detail in the new Crooked House is inspiring; they’ve managed to create a new and exciting experience without sacrificing any of the charm of the original house.

This huge tree dominates the room and supports the new slide.
AMAZING shadowboxes are built into the tree.

The detail here is incredible.

These tiny dioramas give you a glimpse into another world.
Hidden Pinocchio!

Happy Hollow has experienced more changes than I could have ever imagined; I’ve had to say tearful goodbyes to many of my favorite attractions at the park but the Crooked House and Puppet Theater have remained. Undoubtedly the children of the Bay Area will continue to make memories through these iconic attractions for a long time to come.