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Kennywood Park to kick off its 2011 season Saturday

| Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When he was managing the Parkside Cafe in Kennywood Park in the late 1970s and early '80s, Andy Quinn said his biggest concern was the passing rainstorms that would send park patrons racing for the building.

Quinn, now director of community relations for the park, said the venerable old building may see its heaviest usage on the sunny dog days of summer.

"I think they're going to hit a home run with putting the A/C in," said Quinn, referring to an air conditioning system the park installed in the facility during the offseason.

It's the first time the cafe which is the park's oldest structure, built in 1898 has had anything more a fan-operated ventilation system for cooling.

"On a good hot day, that's going to help that building," he said.

The park opens for the season Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and rides start at 11.

Besides the cafe makeover, patrons may notice a number of other improvements, including a new snack stand and restroom area in Kiddieland, paving upgrades at various locations along the midway, a new red roof on the Kandy Kaleidoscope building and enhanced landscaping under the Skyrocket roller coaster.

Quinn, the West Mifflin amusement park's longest-tenured employee with 40 years of service under his belt, is something of a historian where the Parkside Cafe is concerned.

The structure originally was called the Casino and was used in the early days as a picnic pavilion. The park built its present picnic pavilions in the 1920s, and a small retail operation in what would later come to be known as the Parkside Cafe was expanded into a cafeteria, restaurant and banquet hall.

From 1898 to 1945, the cafe was managed by a park employee named Franklin Wentzel. Quinn said menu offerings in the first half of the 20th century included items such as stuffed chicken breast and steak dinners. Price points back then were around a dollar.

"I don't know how they could do a whole chicken for dinner for ($1.05)," Quinn noted. The Parkside Cafe served as a cafeteria, full-service restaurant, employees cafeteria and banquet hall for many years.

In 1984 it scaled back to become a cafeteria and employee dining area. Quinn said fast food restaurants and all-day ride tickets helped spell an end for the sit-down restaurant part of the operation.

"People wanted to get in and get out," he said. "Kids just didn't want to sit looking out at the rides waiting for an hour."

The banquet hall upstairs was converted for park use and today serves as an employee classroom, wardrobe storage area and human resources office.

The cafe's last major makeover was in 1972. The park added restrooms and made a number of cosmetic interior changes.

This latest effort enlarges the restrooms and makes the building compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Following last season's unveiling of the Skyrocket, park spokesman Jeff Filicko said park planners focused on aesthetics, beauty and comfort in the park with the goal of enhancing the overall experience.

The enhancements are about making the park more user-friendly for more people, he said. For example, parents of young children now don't have to go outside Kiddieland for food and beverages or to use the restrooms, he said.

Likewise, Potato Patch Fries patrons can buy their snack of choice at a new branch of the popular concession stand opening at the Star Refreshment Stand near the Log Jammer.

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