By CHRISTINA ANDRONESCU
Splash Kingdom, formerly known as Pharaoh’s Lost Kingdom, has endured an odyssey as an establishment over the course of its nearly 22 years in business and four different owners. However, when the keys to this kingdom fell into the hands of its fourth set of owners, no one could anticipate the sight now just off Interstate 10: a Pharaoh’s stripped to its bones and a significant renovation apparently waiting in the wings.
All of this can be attributed to those newest owners, Dan Martinez, the former chief operating officer of Palace Entertainment, and Ryan Sauter, a former movie studio executive vice president and producer. These two entrepreneurs appear to be brimming with optimism, ambition and a tad of demolition, especially given the recent removal of the iconic pharaoh in their mission to revamp the aging amusement park.
Though 22 years may not seem ancient, when the Braswell family first opened Pharaoh’s Lost Kingdom in 1996 their hope to create “an oasis for families all over the Inland Empire” would weather a succession of hardships to age the park well beyond its years. However, the deterioration of Pharaoh’s relationship with the community arguably began in 2002 with an unfortunate fall from the Ferris Wheel and a subsequent $5 million lawsuit.
In 2006, despite ownership by family-friendly Aladdin Entertainment Group, physical operation of the park fell to Shahvand Aryana, under whom the grounds became plagued by the all-night raves soon to be notorious for constant noise complaints, drug arrests and parking disasters.
Notably, in February 2009, police officers patrolling “Project Love Group,” a Valentine’s-Day-themed rave, noticed children as young as 12 in attendance amid their 23 arrests for drug violations, vandalism, DUIs and other illegal activities. Moreover, from the same event, two 14-year-old girls went missing for two days until found during a rainstorm in a Beaumont parking lot, still recovering from an ecstasy binge.
The following months of 2009 brought additional raves including “Get Lucky” and “420 Fest,” all of which turning out attendances in the thousands and arrests in the double-digits. Meanwhile in the courthouse, Aladdin Entertainment Group, Shahvand Aryana and even the city of Redlands were locked in a series of legal battles regarding the park’s contested conditional use permit and Aryana’s repeated misuse of the grounds. Ultimately, Pharaoh’s remained nearly abandoned until a lawsuit settlement agreement was finally reached and Clearwater Waterpark Development later purchased the defunct park in 2012.
Under new management, Pharaoh’s was rechristened “Splash Kingdom at Pharaoh’s” and underwent rebranding towards a more family-oriented beach theme. Additions such as SkyTown, a 17,000 square foot wave pool and a pair of oversized sunglasses signaled the turning over of a new leaf for the amusement park. Splash Kingdom would continue providing modest, local entertainment for the community over the next five years until current owners, Dan Martinez and Ryan Sauter, assumed ownership on May 1, 2017.
In recent weeks, Splash Kingdom has been preparing for renovation and many parts of the park have been closed off and left empty, though no part as jarringly barren as the front entrance. First losing its sunglasses and now missing entirely, the trademark pharaoh’s removal is only the beginning of the new owners’ big plans for the coming years.
First and foremost, at the core of all their plans, Martinez and Sauter have expressed great interest in making the site as community-oriented as possible.