Without fail, I am always asked what some of the best family-friendly haunts are in the Los Angeles area each Halloween season. And without fail, Boney Island is always an instant response to that question. Actually, one of the finest home haunts anywhere, Boney Island should be on everyone’s October list, regardless of age. It’s that good, and absolutely chalked full of incredible heart and soul. Since our first visit to this Sherman Oaks spectral spooktacular in 2011, Boney Island has been a… permanent resident on Theme Park Adventure’s annual Halloween event tour!
Boney Island is the whimsical creation of Rick Polizzi, a three-time Emmy Award Winner for his work as an Animation Producer on The Simpsons, and author of several books, including the very popular Spin Again: Board Games from the Fifties and Sixties. Rick is a huge-hearted son of New Orleans, where he was born and raised. In the ’70s, Rick began working in media/production, and in the early ’80s, moved from the Crescent City to the City of Angels, where he’s gone on to have a brilliant career in entertainment. He’s a fun guy with a childish, crazy side that we adore, and his Southern hospitality is always abundant. Our professional social circles often cross paths here in Los Angeles, and his love of themed entertainment and just interesting people in general has brought Rick to several of our TPA mixers at Trader Sam’s.
And the boy has a tree house. Not just any tree house. The Polizzi home features a year-round honest to god multi-level tree house that Rick initially built for his children and has continued to add onto years later, making it perhaps one of the coolest private bars/lounges in the Greater Los Angeles region! We certainly love it! Media stories have been done on the tree house, most recently an Animal Planet shoot for Treehouse Masters, which is set to air in February 2014!
This all matters, because it’s the backbone of what Rick’s Boney Island show is at his home each October. What started years ago as a simple yard display depicting silly skeletons doing random things, has turned into a major production that takes up 50% of Rick’s property, including several rooms of his home, where humorous scenes are set up so that guests can peer inside to see even more boney goodness.
In recent years, the massive yard display has taken on the theme of Halloween Magic, and all of Rick’s skeletal residents partake in illusions, from climbing rope tricks and levitating through hoops, to flying carpets and shadow puppetry. There are side show type gags such as knife throwing, and a host of other oddities, including singing shrubbery and bantering spiders – it’s wacky fun that draws thousands of people each year, and is 100% free for guests to attend. Rick does it all out of his own pocket because he wants to give something to the community and especially, to the kids here in Los Angeles. Donations are accepted, and always appreciated – and we hope that the public at large is generous, because creating Boney Island is a massive undertaking that is time-consuming and very, very expensive to maintain and add to each season.
The centerpiece attraction of Boney Island is a mind-blowing water fountain show that takes place every few minutes in Rick’s front yard, featuring an animated skeletal host and a cluster of mischievous cauldrons that have minds – and attitudes – of their own. Black-lit green water dances and leaps from cauldron to cauldron as music plays, and high above, Rick’s tree house comes to life with lights and a wide assortment of grinning Jack-O-Lanterns, all synced in time with the music! The fountain was a creation of Rick and his long-time pal Rex Danyluk, who described their vision and installment in this behind the scenes video Theme Park Adventure shot at Boney Island in 2011.
Boney Island brings joy and laughter to so very many people, and the Sherman Oaks community in large is very supportive. Police and Fire personnel often come by and spend time talking to kids while showing off their vehicles and taking the opportunity for some positive community outreach as they enjoy the sights and sounds of Boney Island along with everyone else.
Due to the popularity of Boney Island, the neighborhood surrounding Rick’s home does become congested at peak times and parking/noise levels can be an issue. Unfortunately, over the past years, there have been a handful of neighbors who become “Halloween grinches” and make things really unpleasant for Rick as he sets up and then hosts Boney Island each year. This is the bane of many home haunts as they become bigger and more successful; it happens everywhere all the time. There are simply people who, despite the good will and spirit of fun such attractions provide the community during Halloween, are bent on being wet blanket jerks that go out of their way to make putting on such events more and more of a hassle than joy for their creators, with the intent of shutting them down. Boney Island isn’t without its Halloween grinches, which is really upsetting. However, TPA sincerely hopes that the moments of discomfort and unease that are brought by a few heartless individuals nearby are trumped by each smile, laugh, and “thank you” from so many families and their children when they visit. To me, people that complain about Halloween haunts or Christmas yard displays are the worst kind of blowhards there are, and they truly suck for trying to shut down everyone’s enjoyment and celebration simply because they are unable to appreciate fun for what it is for whatever reason. Huge love and kudos to Rick Polizzi and his family for giving so much each year to the Los Angeles community – and beyond. Many fans travel from neighboring counties to see this labor of love and are never disappointed!
Each year, Boney Island gets upgrades and new additions. Our favorite trick of 2013 was a new scene depicting a skeleton – Prince Patella, the Weird, Wonderful Water Wizard – pouring the contents of a bottle into a barrel of water – only the stream of water was traveling backward up into the bottle! Rick could often be found manning this scene/effect, and boggling the minds of guests by running his hands through the stream and demonstrating up close that the water was in fact, real! It was a real head scratcher for us when we saw it, and we stood by, watching group after group become amazed, perplexed and ultimately, entertained. The simplistic explanation from one grinning child sums up Boney Island completely and perfectly:
“It’s really magic!”
It truly is.
Are you a fan of Boney Island, and have you been to this yard display? Share your own thoughts and memories below with other TPAers to read and discuss!
– Rick West