It was “a page right out of history” and a popular tourist attraction for several generations of Black Hills visitors, but age and changing times led to the demolition of Flintstones Bedrock City on the west side of Custer last week.
Structures along the main drag of the cartoon-themed village were the first to go, along with Mt. Rockmore — a nod to Mt. Rushmore featuring the faces of Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, Dino and Mr. Granitebuilt, founder of Bedrock.
The final structure to go was the only one that could still be seen from Highway 16: the orange post office building at the top of the ridge above the theme park’s train station. It once served as the entrance to the park.
“It was fun while it lasted,” said former park owner Joe Speckles whose parents, Eddie and Emma, were among the six Chamberlain families who created the theme park and campground in the mid-1960s.
“They had a Ready Mix plant in Chamberlain, so they worked with concrete,” said Speckles of the group that got permission from Flintstones creators Joe Hannah and Bill Barbera to use the popular primetime cartoon characters, “and one of the guys was pretty artistic and they had way too much time on their hands over the winter. So they thought this might be a good time to go into business out here.”
“It was a pretty gutsy move,” said Speckles of the creation of the park, noting that the Flintstones primetime TV series had already gone off the air by the time the village was built.
“But they stayed in business for 50 years, so it turned out to be a good move,” he added.
Since the builders of Bedrock Village were skilled in working with concrete, Speckles said the material was used extensively in constructing the buildings and even the characters scattered around the park. A wood frame was built, then covered with tar paper and hardware cloth or some other material and then sprayed with concrete, which Speckles refers to as shotcrete.
The large purple Dino character which sits on the ridge between Buffalo Ridge Theater and Best Western Motel was built of steel rebar, chicken wire and concrete.
“They built Dino over the winter in the shop in Chamberlain,” said Speckles. “Brought him out here in two pieces: the body and then the head.”
Speckles said the originators thought they would be able to come to Custer and run the business during the summer months, but soon found that there were things to do year-round.
So his uncles, Woody Speckles and Milton Steckelberg, eventually moved to Custer to run the operation full-time.
“It was a family business from the start,” said Speckles, noting that all of the early employees at the park were local residents. He said up to four generations of some local families worked at Flintstones and it was a first job for many young people.
Speckles, who graduated from college the same year his parents were constructing Bedrock City, headed to California to begin an engineering career.
“I didn’t get involved again until 1990,” he said. That’s when he moved to Custer and managed the park until 2015 when the property was sold to Custer Hospitality.
When “The Flintstones” characters began to be replaced in the public mind by more current cartoon figures, interest in the ’60s-era attraction waned, but Speckles said the premier of the live-action “The Flintstones” movie featuring John Goodman as Fred in 1994 brought in additional business for a time.
“That was good for business,” said Speckles. “We got a good bump out of it.”
More recently Fox News Channel host Dana Perino brought attention to the park with her on-air reminiscing about visiting Custer as a child.
Many have asked why “The Flintstones” Village had to go when it has been an important part of Custer’s landscape for half a century.
According to Custer Hospitality owner Mike Tennyson, there are several answers to that, not the least of which is the legal trademark issue.
Tennyson said he approached Warner Brothers, the company which owns “The Flintstones” brand, about keeping the village going shortly after purchasing the property in 2015.
“We didn’t get a real warm reception,” laughed Tennyson. He said subsequent attempts to preserve the artifacts of the village in some way were similarly rebuffed by the company.
The other factor in the decision to tear down the buildings was safety, according to Tennyson.
“We had allowed the public to have free and open access to it the last three years and our insurance carrier was very nervous about that,” he said, adding that, fortunately, there were no issues.
However, he said the public access led to “a lot of vandalism,” including the theft of any item that could be easily removed, such as the cars’ steering wheels.
Tennyson said the buildings were beginning to be unsafe and it was getting to be “very dangerous to have people in there.”
After the demolition began a couple of weeks ago, a post on Dakotagraph Facebook’s page showing pictures of the park garnered over 4,300 comments and had over 8,000 shares.
At the same time the Bedrock buildings were being destroyed, there was a massive amount of construction taking place on Buffalo Ridge. An article in next week’s Custer County Chronicle will give details of Tennyson’s plans for the 60-acre complex.
One building in the village area will remain and be repurposed, according to Tennyson. He said the Bedrock Theater building, which he built himself several years ago, will be used as an additional storm shelter for Buffalo Ridge Campground’s tent camping area.
Tennyson said there’s one more piece of Bedrock that will remain to be enjoyed by visitors for generations to come.