Features: Lost Theme Parks: Boardwalk & Baseball

by Carl Chambers


Park Map - 1987
PDF file requires Adobe Reader

Slideshow - 1987
Scenes from the "Colorado Riders" show with soundtrack

Under The Boardwalk - Employee publication - Vol. 2, #5, Oct/Nov 1987

TV Spot -1989
Video Clip (RealMedia)

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 for remodeling.

Twenty-five 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. The landscaping 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 even B&B's own mini 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.

While 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 Rockwell paintings.

from: 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.

At 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.