How did the Wonderland T stop get its name?

From Boston.com

by: Melissa Ellin

Most MBTA stop names are self-explanatory. There’s State on the Orange Line, located on State Street and underneath the Old State House. Fenway on the Green Line is in the Fenway neighborhood and near Fenway Park. Harvard on the Red Line stops at the university. The list goes on, but Wonderland, the stop at the end of the Blue Line, defies the norm. It deposits riders in Revere, between North Shore Road and Ocean Avenue. Its original inspiration more than a century gone. “It creates a little mystery because it’s not ‘Wonderland Street,’” says Steven Beaucher, who researches transit systems, including the MBTA. “But ‘Wonderland’ itself, well what was that?”

‘A land full of wonders’

The area surrounding the stop used to be “a land full of wonders,” says Stephen Wilk, the author of “Lost Wonderland,” which details the history of the short-lived amusement park that was next to the station’s current location. Its name: Wonderland Amusement Park. Here’s what we know about the sudden and unexpected…

The park opened in 1906 but quickly fell victim to financial struggles and was mostly torn down in 1911. Initially though, it was one of the leading amusement parks of its time, Wilk said.

When word got out around 1905 that Revere planned to construct a park and call it “Wonderland,” parks of the same name started cropping up all over the country. This was part of the late 1800s and early 1900s amusement park construction boom. There were Wonderlands in San Diego, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis, among others.

There’s even still a Wonderland Amusement Park in Amarillo, Texas.

When it stood, Revere’s Wonderland was the premier place to be, according to Wilk. It had plenty of games and rides, including Shoot the Chute, a ride reminiscent of modern water coasters.

Wilk’s book was published during the pandemic and details the entire history of the park. His research informs almost all of the current web pages on it, including the Wikipedia one, which he updated himself. He said he feels there is not much attention brought to the history of Wonderland.

“Why don’t people talk about it? I don’t know,” he said. “I am utterly fascinated by it.”

In addition to what Wilk says was the largest Shoot the Chute in the world at the time, Wonderland was known for its scenic railway, which he described as an early roller coaster — no drops — that had visual components. He said it went through a building that showed people scenes from around the world.

There was also the Hell Gate, a boat ride with a drop that took people into the underworld. Images and icons showed demons and Satan himself.

How did Wonderland Amusement Park get its name?

Revere Beach Parkway on July 10, 1915, some years after Wonderland had closed. – The Boston Globe

How Wonderland in Revere got its name is still a bit of a mystery, Wilk says. He knows that “Coney Island” had been offered as a copycat to the New York park, but Wonderland was the ultimate choice.

Had “Coney Island” been a success, the terminus of the Blue Line might have been named that instead, or “Dreamland,” its less-used full name being “Dreamland and Coney Island.”

“It’s a positive name, it’s something that’s engaging,” Beaucher said of the name Wonderland. “If you were looking at an old map of Coney Island, you would see Dreamland and other of these sort of fanciful names that implied that you’re gonna leave the regular day-to-day realm — something special is going to happen to you there.”

Wilk said he believes the name stems from the idea of “Alice in Wonderland,” which was popular at the time.

What’s in a name?

The stop got its name more than four decades after the park closed, back when the MBTA was still the MTA, but a Revere Journal article from 1953 when the stop was named still mentions the park’s remains.

It says that the station would have served “a section of the ‘wonderland,’ which was the amusement section along the waterfront today.” Wonderland Greyhound Park had since been built, and leftover rides — as well as new ones — continued the amusement park era along Revere Beach until the 1970s, when fires and construction finally closed the chapter.

Still, people longed for amusements at the beach. In a 1983 Boston Globe article, Ben Barber lamented the loss of the attractions. He wrote that the beach had been “bulldozed five years ago into piles of splinters, with the rats running for cover and the dreams of hundreds of thousands of inner-city children and adults burned to dust.”

He added that someone had put up a small host of amusements temporarily in 1983 to bring some of the wonder back. But he called it a “far cry from the mighty roller coasters and ferris wheels of the past.”

The tracks the MTA repurposed for what is now the Blue Line were originally part of the Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad system, which had dubbed the Wonderland stop “Bathhouse,” likely after the bathhouses located just off the stop.

‘There’s nothing left of the original name’

In its wake, Wonderland freed up real estate, and as properties moved in, the name stuck.

The greyhound park ran from 1935 to 2010. In 2017, the park started to undergo demolition, and since then, a high school has been proposed for the area. However, a recent and contentious City Council kibosh on the proposal leaves the largest remaining Wonderland namesake property — other than the station — still in limbo.

Before the racetrack, there was Wonderland Ballroom, which is now located across the street and doubles as the Oceanside Events Center. While it still bears the name Wonderland, the signage is all gone.

“There’s nothing left of the original name,” Beaucher said, which is mostly true.

Dotted along the roads near the T stop are a few miscellaneous “Wonderland” relics — a small strip mall, an auto repair shop, and a convenience store — all of which opened after the T station. At this point, it’s unclear where they got their inspiration from; it could be the station itself.

Wonderland Marketplace is a small outdoor shopping center located next to the Wonderland Parking Garage. – Melissa Ellin

There was also that movie named after the mystical T stop, called “Next Stop Wonderland,” a romcom that takes place partially on the Blue Line and has its terminus at the Wonderland stop.

The future of Wonderland

Despite the lack of “Wonderland” attractions today, the name persists, and Beaucher said he’s a fan of it.

“I love how the legacy of that something exotic or something fanciful — the name continues to speak to that,” he said.

He added that the area near Wonderland and the Revere Beach stop seem to be “going through the first renaissance in decades,” and he won’t be surprised if something crops up there soon.

“For decades it was neglected, and recently, in the last five to six years, you’re getting new hotels built, condominiums built,” Beaucher said. “It’s almost becoming a place to be again after half a century of not being a place to be. I hope it continues to grow and become a destination like it was a century ago.”