Businessman Earl Somers, born around 1894 in Spokane, operated traveling carnivals around the Western states.
He saw an opportunity in Coeur d’Alene in the early 1940s. Thousands of young men and women came to the region because of the war effort. On leave, many went to Spokane, but many also went to Coeur d’Alene to lie on the beach, eat a hamburger or ride the tour boats.
In an advertisement he placed to find carnival rides, Somers said there were 40,000 enlisted men and 12,000 officers at Farragut and other regional installations. Rocks and dirt were used to fill in the waterfront and Somers put up buildings for concessions and games. Playland Pier opened in the summer of 1942 and operated from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Somers’ son, Wilber Somers, was killed in 1944 over Italy. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously for piloting his heavily damaged B-25 on a successful bombing run before a burst of antiaircraft fire tore through the cockpit, killing 2nd Lt. Somers.
Back in Coeur d’Alene, the senior Somers added rotating swings, a Ferris wheel, bumper cars and a carousel. Through the 1950s and 1960s, it was a magnet for young people. Dances were held on a concrete slab with a local band, like the Fabulous Shadows, providing the music. Mike Bolan of the Shadows told the Coeur d’Alene Press that in his high school days in the 1960s, “Coeur d’Alene was like ‘American Graffiti’ or ‘Grease.’ ”
Starting in the 1960s, the Bureau of Land Management, which had jurisdiction over the waterfront that had been filled in, pressured the city to remove any commercial activity and make the area public parkland. The city set a deadline to move Playland out. Somers had passed the business to Barbers Coast Amusements, based in Las Vegas, which began pulling its rides in 1974. Somers died that same year.
In 1975, while some city officials were still trying to find a way to keep the attraction, the remaining dilapidated buildings burned in a mysterious fire. The land was buttressed with a seawall in the shape of large steps and renamed Independence Point. The original Spillman carousel from Playland has been donated back to the city and a nonprofit group is seeking a site and building for the carousel, which sits in storage.– Jesse Tinsley
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