Remembering Discovery Zone

Thursday, April 6, 2006 - by Harmon Jolley
Power Rangers wristband provided a season pass to Discovery Zone.  Click to enlarge.
Power Rangers wristband provided a season pass to Discovery Zone. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Harmon Jolley

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.

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.

If you have memories of Discovery Zone, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.



Solomon Boltons Were Of Melungeon Origin; Robert Bolton Was Among State's Earliest Settlers

Solomon Bolton was a Melungeon and was a soldier in the War of 1812. His lovely daughter, Jemima, had a tragic story. The Melungeons were a dark-skinned people of mysterious origin. Another Bolton pioneer in Hamilton County was Robert Bolton, whose father was among the state's earliest settlers. Solomon Bolton was born Sept. 17, 1791, at Georgetown District ... (click for more)

Chester Martin: Tales Of Broad Street

Did anyone ever tell you when you were growing up that Broad Street (in Chattanooga) did not always exist - except for nine short blocks from the river to 9th Street? Very hard to imagine that now, to be sure, but the street, as we know it today was not always there. My parents were both around, however, when that street only ran from the river (Aquarium area) to 9th Street, now ... (click for more)

Chattanoogan Hotel Sold By City To Lexington, Ky., Hospitality Group For $32 Million

The city has reached agreement to sell the Chattanoogan hotel for $32 million. The buyer is Schulte Hospitality Group of Lexington, Ky. The firm has 102 hotels in 26 states. Daisy Madison, city chief financial officer, said the proceeds would be enough to pay off all the city's remaining debt for building it. She said there had been interest in buying the hotel before, ... (click for more)

Janice Raper, 69, Killed In Accident On Lee Highway

Janice Raper, 69, was killed Sunday evening in a car accident on Lee Highway. Chattanooga Police responded at 7:54 p.m. to a traffic crash at 6800 Lee Highway. A Toyota Sienna, driven by Ms. Raper, was traveling northbound, attempting to make a left turn onto Hickory Valley Road.  A Dodge Challenger, driven by Charise Nash, 26, was traveling southbound on Lee Highway, ... (click for more)

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Myth And Fact Check

My husband and I recently had the privilege of participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Chattanooga. I listened as my husband told the audience about how his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was nine and how she died from the disease when he was fourteen. As a child, my husband didn’t understand what breast cancer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Evil This Way Comes

There is a line in Act IV of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, as some of the 20,000 students at Middle Tennessee State are taught, that reads: "By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes." The professors explain that in the 16 th century the “pricking of thumbs” meant an intuition of evil about to happen and every student at MTSU knows several white supremacy ... (click for more)