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The Rise and Fall of Jacksonville Beach Amusement Parks

Metro Jacksonville's Kristen Pickrell explores the rise and fall of Jacksonville Beach's amusement parks.

Published June 10, 2014 in History      13 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


There seems to be a fair share of things to do in Jacksonville Beach—from grabbing a quick bite to eat at a local favorite or throwing a few lines off the pier, to the hoppin’ night-life scene of drinking, dancing, and catching a few live sets at one of the local bars. Prior to these times, however, a different scene occupied beach life.
As early as 1885, the central portion of Jax Beach was occupied by “The Boardwalk,” a five block strip along the coastline that served as an amusement venue for several years. The Boardwalk had several stores, including restaurants, grocers, bakeries, laundromats, and drug stores. The Boardwalk also featured a pavilion, built by The Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad with the hope of attracting more occupants to the beaches area. The pavilion had a huge floor that visitors could use for roller skating and dancing. Another major attraction included in The Boardwalk’s area was the luxurious Murray Hall Hotel. The hotel was a 193 room, 350 guest facility that was steam heated, had open fireplaces, a playroom, billiards, a bar, and an orchestra ballroom. The hotel also generated electricity and had an artesian well that supplied water to the Pablo Beach. Unfortunately, much of the area surronding The Boardwalk burned to the ground as a result of a boiler room fire on August 7th, 1890.
The next phase of the Jax Beach amusement park scene came in 1905, with the construction of The Pavilion. Eventually, The Pavilion would be completed, expanded on, and come to be known as Little Coney Isaldn.  Little Coney Island was huge, covering nearly an entire block of the beaches, near whaty is now First Street. Little Coney Island was very popular among both locals and tourists, and featured attractions such as a bowling alley, dance floor, swim room, concession stands, stores, and roller skating rinks. However, Little Coney Island, aged badly, and quickly, due to its wooden structures facing constant ocean winds. An issue with contracting resulted in Little Coney Island being torn down in 1925.
Another phase of the Amusement Park scene in Jax Beach included Shad’s Pier, which opened in 1922. Shad’s Pier began with the work of Charles Shad, and his desire to build a dance pier the jutted from the boardwalk. With the help of Martin Williams, the construction of the pier began. Shad’s Pier was a place for visitors to dance, fish, and relax. Shad himself installed a generator and strung lights, lighting up the entire structure so it could be an extravagant sight from miles away. Music could also be heard from several miles away, as major bands often visited and performed. Shad’s Pier became “Trotter’s Pier,” after Shad passed away, Williams took over with his new partner, Hawkins.
Around the same time, W. H. Adams, Sr. created the Ocean View Pavillion amusement park. Adams built Ocean View on the former ground of Murray Hall. Part of Adams’s vision was that he wanted to construct a roller coaster, larger than the one that had been seen at Little Coney Island. The ending product was a 93-feet high coaster, with its cars reaching up to 50 miles per hour. Unfortunately, due to its size and being so close to the beach, the coaster was extremely vulnerable to damage. Eventually, the coaster was deemed unsafe, and was destructed and replaced by the smaller “Wild Mouse” coaster. The park had lost a lot of business with the loss of the huge, distinctive coaster, and by 1949, the Ocean View Pavilion began to turn. Eventually a fire put an end to Ocean View, only a few years later.
The end of the amusement park glory days came with Platyland Park, which was located only a few blocks north. Playland Park was similar to most “fairs” we see today: Ferris wheels, bumper cars, Tilt-A-Whirls, etc. There was also a “penny arcade,” with pinball machines and arcade-type games.
Today, Jax Beaches only “amusement” park is Adventure landing, located on Beach Boulevard. Adventure landing features arcade games, go-karts, and laser tag, as well as a water park featuring fountains and water slides.

Article by Kristen Pickrell

Next Page: Images of Jacksonville Beach's Amusement Parks

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June 10, 2014, 09:24:04 AM
Excellent article! Awesome pics that I never seen before. I never known that the height (93 ft) of old woodie the 'Beach Coaster' until now; Hell, even www.rcdb.com/2891.htm doesn't have it's height listed. I'll kill to see a POV (point of view) of the Beach Coaster.

I loved the color pic of the old Everly Rock-O-Plane, Tilt-A-Whirl, and other flatride that I'm not sure was. The Family Entertainment Center/waterpark  Adventure Landing is great, but here's to Duval getting a future amusement park sooner than later!!!


June 10, 2014, 09:38:59 AM
Great article! I had no idea. My dad used to tell me stories about the real Coney Island and I never fully believed him until I saw an old PBS special on it and it blew my mind the crazy rides they had back then.

It would be awesome if we had something like that at Jax beach now. I do like Adventure Landing's water park but it would be nice to have some real coasters maybe something like this:



June 10, 2014, 09:50:47 AM
In Santa Cruz California, there is a little boardwalk and amusement center that this kind of reminds me of. I guess our weather is more harsh, as that one is just as old but still in very good condition and still a  great attraction.


June 10, 2014, 11:52:08 AM
Very interesting.  I seem to recall hearing Huricanne Dora in 1964 did a lot of damage to the amusements at the beach at that time.  Does anyone know more about that?


June 10, 2014, 11:57:15 AM
It destroyed the wild mouse like ride, but was replaced with the watersides.  The real damage to the boardwalk in general was the Tet Offensive and the ramping up of the War in Viet Nam as it took a large portion of the young navy guys out on missions.  The Seventies was spent worrying about the beach erosion, and the boardwalk was taken over by some fairly unsavory mob characters.  The eighties and nineties were wasted with a devastating redevelopment agency that destroyed what was left with the creation of the 'flag pavilion' convention center and government supported restaurants at the beach.  No one could plan or develop on their own without the go ahead of the redevelopment agency, and so no one did.


June 10, 2014, 12:11:15 PM
I found this:

Even before Hurricane Dora’s eye moved ashore in Northeast Florida just after midnight on September 10, 1964, much of the new Jacksonville Beach Pier was destroyed by winds. While Dora caused no deaths in Jacksonville, buildings throughout North Florida were severely damaged or lost. At the beaches, bulkheads were destroyed and 43 homes were lost in the Jacksonville beaches area—20 swept to sea.



June 10, 2014, 12:38:16 PM


June 10, 2014, 01:09:53 PM
Nice find!


June 10, 2014, 05:26:29 PM
There were a number of separate disasters that took out the old boardwalk in the early 60s. Both the two anchors - the roller coaster block and the old pier (the one discussed here, between 3rd and 2nd Ave. N) were already gone by the time Dora rolled around in 1964.

The need to do something had been noted since at least the late 50s, but the Jax Beach city leadership was unable to come up with anything. People there at the time remember that the coaster block (then containing the "Wild Mouse" coaster) had become downright unsafe, with flammable materials being stored in dilapidated, poorly wired buildings right next to the attractions. While the owners and city were debating what to do, nearly the entire block was destroyed by fire on March 9, 1961, taking out the "Wild Mouse" and most of the associated attractions. The city then spent several years fighting over the property with the operator, W.H. Adams, Jr.

At the same time, the city took ownership of Shad Pier in May 1962. It had been an attraction unto itself in its prime, but outdoor dancing pavilions were seen as old fashioned and the pier was in as bad of shape as the coaster block. While the city deliberated what to do with the pier, it too burned down on October 13, 1962. A private investor, R.L. Williams, built a new pier at 6th Ave. South, several blocks outside the tourist zone. It was built specifically for fishing and had no dancing pavilion. This pier was damaged by Dora in 1964, but was repaired. This was the pier that was severely damaged by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. In 2005 it was replaced by the modern pier at 4th Ave. North, closer to the old pier's location.

Dora took out or damaged even more of the boardwalk, and none of it was ever rebuilt. Times had changed and those kinds of attractions were seen as passe, especially as Disney World and its ilk were already in the works. Tourists were less and less interested in small town attractions. Additionally, the development of A1A, Beach Boulevard, and Atlantic Boulevard effectively turned the roads into strip mall-lined arterials that reduced the need for a central commercial district and spread the population west and south. At the same time, the Beaches area was increasingly becoming a bedroom suburb of Jacksonville, and the easy access to shopping and attractions took away much of the appeal of the old commercial and tourist district, which was seen as increasingly seedy.

By the time I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the downtown area of Jax Beach was generally seen as a place to be avoided. The city made things worse by doing nothing or worse. Large portions of the area were leveled in the hopes that some big developer would come in and build something new, and the few new amenities that were added were pretty lackluster (case in point, the Flag Pavilion).

In the 1990s the city took a new approach to redevelopment by encouraging infill and working with local business on development strategies. From that point there has been a much more comprehensive master plan, and it has clearly paid off. There's still more to be done, but the downtown area has become a nightlife center for the whole metro area.


June 10, 2014, 11:23:33 PM
It destroyed the wild mouse like ride, but was replaced with the watersides.  The real damage to the boardwalk in general was the Tet Offensive and the ramping up of the War in Viet Nam as it took a large portion of the young navy guys out on missions. 

Um? No! Tet wasn't a hiccup at our local bases, what happened was the Navy moved NATTC (aka: Nat-Center) the Naval Air Technical Training Command, to Memphis NAS in 1973. NATTC, like NARTU, and NATU were huge school's operating at the base. Over 1.5 Million young Swab's fresh out of boot camp and still wet behind the ears, young enough to enjoy a full service Boardwalk, were now gone to Tennessee. Our base mission shifted from a massive school base to that of a Naval Air Depot, or all-purpose fix-it man for anything with wings or rotors.


June 11, 2014, 11:29:35 AM
^I've never heard that a decrease in Navy guys was a factor in the decline of dowtown Jax Beach. In fact, you hear a lot from folks that remember that more Navy guys coming out contributed to the decline, since the locals were less inclined to go to Navy bars. Evidently there was a lot of stigma against people in the military back then (all across the country), which is horrible. Some of the old timers can probably speak more to that than I can; by the time I was of going out age (late 90s, early 00s) I never detected any of that. Navy, locals, and others mix in all the bars and restaurants now. I think most nowadays would be appalled to hear that folks were once looked down on just for serving their country.


June 11, 2014, 11:33:13 AM
Grandparents moved to 17th north when I was six months old. All my aunts and uncles had summer jobs at the boardwalk.  They all graduated from Fletcher. (where I also went back when there was a Junior High instead of a Middle School.

By the end of the 60s thats what most of the operators were blaming the downturn on.  Jax Beach actually went through a slow down night life wise when the last war broke out as well, if you remember.

And the anti military mood was somewhat exaggerated in the retelling.

Especially here locally.


June 11, 2014, 11:38:27 AM
Evidently there was a lot of stigma against people in the military back then (all across the country), which is horrible. Some of the old timers can probably speak more to that than I can; by the time I was of going out age (late 90s, early 00s) I never detected any of that. Navy, locals, and others mix in all the bars and restaurants now. I think most nowadays would be appalled to hear that folks were once looked down on just for serving their country.

Rightly or wrongly, people in the military at that time were perceived as the physical embodiment of a hugely unpopular war.  They weren't ostracized "just for serving their country" but because they represented to many people at that time American military intervention gone wrong.
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