The Funtastic Fun location on South Broadway has been closed since mid-2011. For years, people have driven by that white chunk of concrete and wondered what would become of it. Maybe they even spotted the glass jutting out of the top and puzzled over what the hell it once housed. (For the record, it was a custom addition to the building made to fit a child-size Ferris wheel.) Now a Chick-Fil-A is slated to take over the spot, which is fine; there's nothing stunning about the empty building, and if the homophobes want to bring more fast food to the area, let them. Just hope people aren't hungry on Sunday, when Chick-Fil-A is closed.
But since I'm all about cataloging dead Denver-centric establishments autobiographically, I thought I'd spend a brief moment recalling Funtastic Fun/Funtastic Nathan's and the childhood dream/parental nightmare that once was.
If you grew up in Colorado in the '70s and '80s, there were two things you had to do for your birthday at least once: Score a spot on Blinky's Fun Club and sit through his birthday song, and have a party at Funtastic Nathan's. The original indoor play place was housed in Cinderella City, a massive mall built in the late-'60s that was supposedly the biggest in America at the time. That place itself was wild (the mall had its own two-story carousel and what felt like miles of winding color-coded hallways), but Funtastic Nathan's was its own animal.
Though my memory is shoddy, I know Funtastic Nathan's was insane -- it had a wonderfully germ-laden ball pit, a massive teddy bear with a head that reached the ceiling and an equally huge rocking horse you could play on -- which seemed super dangerous but made it all the more fun. Of course, there was also the "shadow room," which Westword alum Jason Heller described in a 2005 piece we ran about the once-weird strip known as Broadway:
Most gruesome of all, there's a room that emits some kind of weird light that causes your shadow to stick to the wall long after you've stepped away from it; it bears a skin-crawling resemblance to the old photos of Hiroshima victims whose silhouettes were frozen against the sides of buildings when the A-bomb dropped.
Trust me -- Funtastic Nathan's had all kinds of cool shit. I mean, you had to walk through a minefield of saucer-size lollipops, reams of candy buttons, gummi things in every size and belly-aching shape and bulk sour stuff sold by the pound just to get in and out of the place, which was a dream for kids and excruciating, I'm sure, for adults. It was the place for birthday parties.
The legend goes that once a competing joint called Big Fun opened up in the late '80s/early '90s -- it was built in an old grocery store six blocks from my house in Virginia Vale -- Funtastic Nathan's business suffered. The other part of this urban legend is that Nathan himself broke into Big Fun one night dressed in clown get-up and slashed up a twenty-foot high, five-layer spider web made out of rubber to get revenge on Big Fun for his lost profits. I doubt it's true, but it sure makes the legend of Funtastic Nathan's that much weirder.
Funtastic Nathan's re-opened as Funtastic Fun on South Broadway in 1995. Most all of the cool shit from the mall location came with, but it never quite gained back the feeling of the Cinderella City spot. In 2000, owner Nathan Elinoff tried to give the place away, Golden Ticket-style, in the hopes that a $100 raffle ticket sale would lead to paying off the space's mortgage. It didn't.
Stll, Funtastic Fun trudged on in that spot for another decade, enticing kids and parents with the idea that a confined space full of sugar and carnival rides and slightly carnie-looking ride operators was the place to be. Then, finally, Funtastic packed it in and moved to Aurora, where it was reincarnated as Lollipop Park.
Since too much of my budget goes to Starbucks and my personal trainer, Roosevelt, and I can't really afford kids, I have to go off of the experiences of my friends with kids -- and I'm pretty sure none of them have had birthday parties at Lollipop Park. I've certainly never seen Facebook documentation of such events.
So instead, I'm left imagining photos of my fellow kid-less friends sitting alone under a "The Party's Here!" sign at Funtastic Fun, staring down sadly an empty table with a cake in front of them.
And that could be the real reason Funtastic Nathan had to leave Broadway: because the only people frequenting the kid's play place were other child-free creeps like me just looking to relive our birthday parties of yore in the sweet heaven that once was Funtastic Nathan's.
Now, can we please start our own version of a "keep Denver weird" campaign?
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