BOARDWALK & BASEBALL
A BRIEF HISTORY
by Carl Chambers
In early 1986, the Orlando-based
textbook publishers Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich got the
itch to be in the theme-park/entertainment business. They went
on a "kid in a candy store" buying spree and when the
dust had settled, HBJ owned three Sea World parks, Cypress
Gardens, Stars Hall of Fame, and Circus World.
It is purported that HBJ offered James Monaghan 18 million
dollars (almost double what he had paid) for the Circus World properties
and although he had not been actively trying to sell the park - "money's
money" and he accepted their offer. I'm not sure which textbook
the folks at HBJ were using, but they immediately (the same
day) decided that the circus theme was out and closed the park
million dollars later, on April 4th, 1987, the park officially
reopened as Boardwalk and Baseball. The new theme was a sort of
turn of the century Atlantic City style boardwalk with a vintage
baseball stadium. Don't get me wrong, the place was beautiful.
was immaculate and almost all of the concrete walkways in the 135
acre park were replaced with a boardwalk (over a mile long) constructed
of jarrah wood timbers imported directly from southwestern Australia.
On the northeast side of the park, a fabulous state-of-the-art
baseball stadium was constructed along with a multitude of smaller
baseball fields, training facilities and a clubhouse. There was
Baseball Hall of Fame, housing baseball movies, displays and memorabilia
leased from Cooperstown. The Kansas City Royals were lured from
their former spring training quarters in Ft. Myers with the promise
of huge tourist support. The area formerly designated as "Barnum
City" was redubbed "Baseball City".
All of the buildings, old and
new, were painted with the signature B&B gray and pink. The
only parts of the Circus World legacy that remained were
some of the major rides (including the very popular wooden roller-coaster, "The
Florida Hurricane") and the western arena which had housed
the circus' "Wild West" show. The 2000 seat arena was
refurbished, and outfitted with a western town facade on one end
and a Dance Hall stage on the other. This arena was where the park's
major show, "Colorado Riders" (a lavish parody of the
history of Colorado), was performed twice daily.
the main building at the front of the park, which had once stood
as a noble monument to the bygone circus era, was still there --
it bore no resemblance to the gigantic circus tent it had originally
been constructed to portray. It was now a modern looking gray and
pink, concrete and glass slab that still housed the IMAX theater
(new movie though), a restaurant, a smaller theater, and the ever
present concessions (some things never change). On the roof were
eight, forty foot square, four color murals of original Norman
Baseball City Gazette - Spring 1988 (front gate handout)
New rides included "The Grand
Rapids", which was built on it's own lake and was advertised
as one of the longest and tallest log flumes in the country. Gas
style lanterns and park benches gave the park a very nostalgic
atmosphere and there was one large area in the middle of the park
that was a sort of park within a park (called aptly "Park
Place") where it was relatively peaceful and quiet.
The gazebo that had been converted
to house the outdoor Bar-B-Q restaurant at James Mognahan's Circus
World, was refitted with a new carrousel (but not an antique) and
a new Bar-B-Q facility was constructed some 30 or 40 yards to the
north in an old western town setting surrounding the main entrance
to the outdoor arena. The Dizzy Rambler Band was once again engaged
in drawing guests into the Bar-B-Q area, but now those crowds were
exiting the "Colorado Riders" show.
In late 1987, HBJ had to
avert a hostile takeover by British publisher Robert Maxwell and
although they were successful in their defense, it left the company
some $2.9 billion dollars in debt. They were never able to overcome
this setback and on September 28, 1989, HBJ auctioned all
of it's theme-park holdings to beer baron Anheuser-Busch for
an estimated $1.1 billion dollars. It is doubtful (although denied
from the very beginning) that Busch's plans ever included
keeping Boardwalk and Baseball in operation but merely to
eliminate any competition lying between their own successful Busch
Gardens theme park in Tampa and the mighty Disney empire
to the east.
about 3:00 pm, on Wednesday, January 17, 1990, a PA system announcement
stated that the Boardwalk and Baseball was closing several
hours early and the some 1000 park guests were asked to leave.
They were offered refund vouchers at the front gate.