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Rediscovering Discovery Zone [ORG. POSTED 8.1.09]



Discovery Zone (or DZ for short) was a chain of entertainment facilities featuring games and elaborate indoor mazes designed for young children, including slides, climbing play structures and ball pits. The chain was founded by Ronald MatschJim Jorgensen and Dr. David Schoenstadt in 1989. The first store was opened in Lenexa, Kansas, in January 1990. An early investor and vocal supporter of the company was tennis player Billie Jean King.[1]

Other places similar to Discovery Zone include Chuck E. Cheese’sMajor Magic’sThe Jungle, and Wonder Camp (a chain which closed in 1997).McDonald’s started a similar chain called Leaps and Bounds which merged into Discovery Zone in 1994.

In the 1990s, one of its jingles went like this: “I’m going DZ at Discovery Zone. Discover what I can do on my own! I can jump, swing, crawl or mountain climb. I’m going DZ, where I want to be!”. This was sung by children. Another slogan was “Fun-believable fitness for kids!” ” [1]




“Stretched thin by expansion, changes in management tried to save the company, however (under Viacom’s control) Discovery Zone filed for bankruptcy on March 261996 in Wilmington, Delaware with debts of up to $366.8 million.[2]Chuck E. Cheese’s purchased approximately 500 of DZ’s locations and turned them into Chuck E. Cheese’s facilities by the end of 1999.” [1]



[7L / 7R]

“How long does it take for us to become nostalgic about a past decade? “American Graffiti” (1973) temporarily made us forget about Watergate and the energy crisis as we cruised back to 1962. The 1970’s and a hit show of that era came back to life in “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995). We reminisced about the early days of MTV and the 1980’s as we watched “The Wedding Singer” (1998).

Now that we’re in the noughties, which is what I understand the British call the current decade, there may be some who are nostalgic for the 1990’s. For those readers who are now in their early twenties, we take you back to a place where you may have played as a child. You are now entering the Discovery Zone.” [2]



“Discovery Zone was a place where children and parents could enjoy time together in a variety of play. The first Discovery Zone FunCenter appeared in 1989 in Kansas City, Missouri. Ron Matsch and Al Fong, with physical fitness backgrounds, were founders. Chattanooga got its Discovery Zone in August, 1993 when one opened in the new Hamilton Village shopping center at 2020 Gunbarrel Road.

The centerpiece of Discovery Zone was its Mega Zone, a plumbing-like structure consisting of large tubes and nets for climbing, slides for, eh, sliding, and a splash pool filled with brightly-colored plastic balls for throwing. The Mega Zone was built large and sturdy enough for parents to join their children in the fun, and this was highly encouraged. There was also a Mini Zone for smaller children.



The Skill Zone area featured games that tested eye-hand coordination. There was skee ball, basketball, and my favorite, Whack-a-Mole (or some similar subterranean creature). After an hour or so of play, one could visit the snack bar for refreshments. Children could also celebrate birthdays in one of the private party rooms. When it was time to go home, there was a counter where tickets earned in playing games could be redeemed.

Discovery Zone advertised frequently on the kid-oriented Nickelodeon cable network. In 1995, the company participated in a tie-in with the release of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.” Power Rangers wristbands allowed wearers to have fun all summer long at DZ while imagining they had special powers to help Zordon defeat the Putties, Rita Repulsa, and Lord Zed.

In 1994, a second Discovery Zone opened in Hixson at 5239 Highway 153. Though located across from another kid-centered attraction, a new Toys-R-Us, the Hixson DZ stayed open less than a year. By 1997, the Hamilton Village DZ had also closed, and the corporate Discovery Zone entered into bankruptcy. By then, fast food restaurants were installing elaborate play areas which children could use for free.

Though Discovery Zones have all closed, the memories of them will remain with today’s teens and twenty-somethings for many years. When you’re having a bad day, just think back to the fun times at Discovery Zone, and the day that your father almost got stuck on the roller slide.” [2]



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Reader Comments (3)

Can we petition?..... beg? borrow? steal from someone wealthy???? We need this back in our lives!!!! It is perfect with the large get moving campaign at the White House. I'm sure there is a correlation between the time DZ closed and the rise in obesity!
April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBriana Walls
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