This one hurts. Not only is it personal, it is a sobering wake-up call to the entire SoCal haunt community in general. Boney Island, the beloved, family-friendly home haunt in Sherman Oaks has been cancelled; permanently shuttered, thanks to a couple of uncooperative neighbors and city officials that saw an opportunity to make some money, rather than stand behind an event that brought so much happiness and good to Los Angeles. The announcement of Boney Island’s closure just days before its 2017 season isn’t the end of the story – it’s the beginning of something much, much bigger and important that everyone needs to be aware of.
In 1997, Rick Polizzi created a heartfelt yard display at his home in Sherman Oaks, an upscale, quiet neighborhood in the Greater Los Angeles area. Boney Island was a fun-filled nod to Coney Island in New York, featuring whimsical skeletons getting into all types of mischief while enjoying thrilling rides and attractions. Rick created the home haunt to entertain his daughters and anyone else in the neighborhood that shared his love of Halloween. For many years, Rick served as a producer on The Simpsons, and his creative, kooky sense of humor absolutely came through in a series of funny vignettes found throughout his front yard. As the event grew, it drew more fans each Halloween season, delighting folks of all ages. Boney Island truly had become a major home haunt, and the community responded incredibly well to it.
As the increase in interest grew, so did the display. By the mid-2000s, Boney Island had become a major attraction, drawing thousands of fans – and the ire of a couple crotchety neighbors. In order to keep the peace in his neighborhood, Rick opted to shut Boney Island down in 2008, much to the dismay of many adoring fans and thankful families. Rick sold off and gave everything from Boney Island to friends and fans; for all intents and purposes, the home haunt had seen its final Halloween.
A few years passed, and fans disappointed by the fading of Boney Island continued to voice their desire to have it back again. One of Rick’s good friends, Rex Danyluk, created a really impressive fountain show – the perfect size for a front yard. Right away, Rick knew that it could be the central piece for an all-new Boney Island display, and the wheels of creativity were set in motion.
In 2011, Boney Island made its triumphant return, with an all-new magic theme; the show that many of us have come to know and adore in recent years. Fans rejoiced and flocked to Sherman Oaks once again by the thousands – families by the carload came to marvel and gawk at the sights – and there were sights! Boney Island once again featured a multitude of skeletal performers in silly situations, while really cool special effects and illusions were to be found throughout the Polizzi’s yard. Rick built the show up again from scratch, spending countless hours and thousands of his own dollars to entertain guests of all ages for multiple nights throughout the month of October.
As Rick had envisioned, the fountain show Rex built was an instant success. Several times each night, an array of mischievous black cauldrons would become the springboard for the whimsical and jaw-dropping show, in which jets of water would jump, dance, and rise high into the night sky, dazzling hundreds of guests at a time. Rick’s 4-story-tall treehouse (a permanent fixture at the Polizzi home, which Rick built years ago for his kids and uses now to frequently entertain visitors), was adorned with a myriad of grinning Jack O’Lanters that would flash and blink along to the musical soundtrack playing in concert with the aquatic spectacle! It was truly one of the most amazing and complicated components we’ve ever seen at a home haunt – truly theme park quality stuff.
Boney Island became a community event; much more than anything Rick had envisioned 20 years earlier when setting up a fun yard display for his daughters. In 2016, the haunt attracted more than 55,000 visitors during its run – a staggering amount of love and interest expressed by the community here in Southern California. Fans of all walks and ages – everyone from families to local police and fire personnel – came to take it all in and simply enjoy the positive vibe of the show.
Parking was challenging near Rick’s home for sure on nights that Boney Island was open to the public – but we never had to park more than a block or two away, even when the event was packed with excited onlookers. Yet… once again, a small handful of grumpy neighbors turned down their lights and went dark on Boney Island, complaining to authorities, and putting Rick and his home haunt in a spotlight most unwelcome and awkward. Rather than come together as a community – which many of Rick’s neighbors did with great pride – a couple of Halloween grinches started in again, involving police by making complaints that the Sherman Oaks Police Department really couldn’t blow off, despite many of their officers being frequent visitors to the Halloween attraction and being very supportive and friendly with the Polizzi family.
In 2016, tension with a few of Rick’s neighbors reached a new high, and the city was forced to impose fees on Boney Island in turn for traffic control officers who would oversee the crowds and traffic conditions “for everyone’s safety” – something that Rick has always been extremely cognizant of and proactive about when designing the guest flow areas of Boney Island. The amount of cash Rick was told he needed to come up with to satisfy the city’s requirements was $5,000.00 – this, on top of the large sum of cash the Polizzi family normally put out each year to add new features to the show, and feed friends and volunteers nightly who came by to help out and support. A public crowdfunding campaign was launched, and the community opened their wallets and hearts to Boney Island, meeting the target cost and then some. For another year, the beloved home haunt was saved.
Earlier this year, Rick began an expansion idea with one of his neighbors – one that called for closing off an intersection for several hours each night of the show in order to keep guests safe, while spreading out the crowds more. In trying to work with the city, Rick was told that he’d need to raise more than three times the amount – to “safely” operate Boney Island and to meet city officials’ requirements. Another crowdfunding campaign was started, and Rick faced an uphill battle as a couple of neighbors continued their ugliness toward the home haunt, making things very complicated for Rick’s dealings with the city and local municipalities. Rick was told that his permits had been approved for 2017, and he and his team moved forward, installing what would be the biggest and best Boney Island show ever for fans to appreciate and adore.
Here’s where things get really nasty. When Rick was told that the city was approving Boney Island’s 2017 permits, he was informed that any neighbors who’d “had concerns” would be notified and they’d be given the opportunity to share their input with the city.
Only after talking to some of these neighbors, just days before Boney Island was to debut this year, was Rick informed by the city that they’d “completely underestimated” the amount of traffic control and safety precautions needed for Boney Island to operate, and the permit fees for the home haunt skyrocketed to between $75,000 – $100,000. There was no way crowdfunding or the Polizzis would be able to come up with that kind of cash – nor should they honestly be expected to, really. That was the death blow. Rick had to make the gut-wrenching solution to pull the plug on his adored home haunt once and for all. There was no fight left. There was no other way. His unsupportive neighbors and greed of the city had finally won – Boney Island was dead.
“I’m thrilled to have put on a show for 16 years that everyone loved,” says Rick Polizzi. “I’m sad though, that it had to end so abruptly. I think upping the costs for permits, insurance, concrete barricades and security by the city was a knee-jerk reaction to some events that have happened in Europe, Las Vegas, and elsewhere, as well as a couple of folks in the neighborhood who were unwilling to see the good this brought to the community each season. I worry that greater restrictions like this could put an end to other creative home haunts in Southern California that people put their hearts into.”
Boney Island will not return to Sherman Oaks. Many of the props and pieces that made up this Southern California tradition have been sold on eBay to help make up some of the costs that Rick had already poured into this year’s extravaganza.
To say this is devastating is an understatement. To say this is a grievous act toward the SoCal haunt community is completely accurate, and we are not going to let this go quietly into the night. What we have seen happen to Boney Island is a new reality that haunts across the region are going to be facing in 2018 and beyond as new “safety” legislation is voted on and rolled out. In short, Southern California is facing permitting issues and new laws that will threaten haunted attractions of all types, from home haunts like Boney Island to professional immersive experiences that are finding it incredibly hard to find locations and obtain operating agreements these days.
Theme Park Adventure and Midsummer Scream are committed to serving this community, and will do everything in our power to give haunters a voice – a direct pipeline to the media and public at large, so their home haunts, attractions, and creative events are not jeopardized by cities looking to make a quick buck off of their craft by way of out-of-control “permitting” or knee-jerk legislation. Southern California is the world leader of Halloween events big and small; we will fight with everything we have, as loudly as we need, to ensure our community isn’t threatened by those who would like to see it wrapped up and put in a neat little box somewhere, or milked like a cash cow in the name of “public safety”.
Boney Island was a special gift. Rick Polizzi did so much good for this community that words aren’t enough to thank him and his team and family for so many years and countless hours of hard work and dedication. Halloween won’t be the same anymore here in SoCal. None of us will ever forget the brilliance and spectacle that one sleepy neighborhood in Sherman Oaks was more than lucky to have.
- Rick West
EDITOR’S NOTE: The permitting issues fall under the city of Los Angeles. Los Angeles has been cracking down harder and harder on permitting of temporary events – be it Boney Island or other immersive experiences. Some comments have come up that it’s the city of Los Angeles at fault here, as there is no “city of Sherman Oaks” municipality here. The exact department that is at the root of this that Rick Polizzi has been dealing with is the “Van Nuys Division”, which falls under the LA municipality.
Be sure to bookmark and reference our 2017 SoCal Haunt Directory for all your Halloween haunt planning!
Boney Island 2016 Video:
Boney Island 2016 Images:
Boney Island 2011 Behind-The-Scenes Interview With Rick Polizzi: