South Florida

These old Florida theme parks gave us all a good time. Then reality destroyed them

What’s coming to the Florida theme parks in 2019?

This is a blockbuster year for theme parks. Almost every Florida park is getting a new ride or show. Check this out to know what's coming to the Florida theme parks in 2019.
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This is a blockbuster year for theme parks. Almost every Florida park is getting a new ride or show. Check this out to know what's coming to the Florida theme parks in 2019.

As Walt Disney World keeps on expanding and a planned West Miami-Miami megamall dreams of becoming Retail World, let’s take a moment to mourn the loss of South Florida’s defunct theme parks and attractions.

Remember the Miami Wax Museum? What about Pirates World and Six Flags Atlantis? And Blockbuster Golf & Games and Boomers?

Now, they’re all gone, replaced by housing complexes and stores.

What killed them?

Take your pick: struggling finances, valuable real estate, a change in customer tastes.

Six Flags Atlantis was razed for Oakwood Plaza in Hollywood. And Dania Pointe is opening in phases on the former home of Boomers and the landmark wooden roller-coaster just off I-95.

South Florida still has a handful of theme parks: Seaquarium, Lion Country Safari, Jungle Island (previously Parrot Jungle), Coral Castle. But if you mention the word “theme park” today, you’re likely talking about those in Central Florida: Disney World, Universal, Busch Gardens.

They may be gone, but these Miami-Dade and Broward parks live on in our hearts and memories. So let’s look back at their stories as told through the Miami Herald archives.

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One of the rides at Pirates World in Dania. Miami Herald File

PIRATES WORLD

Published July 20, 2008

Long ago, in days before Disney World, there was an attraction in Dania Beach that fueled memories for decades.

“Everyone will remember Pirates World,” said Kim Farrington, still bubbly, freckled, and still holding fast to her employee badge, like treasure, from 1971.

The 87-acre buccaneer theme park, built in 1966 at Federal Highway north of Sheridan Street, was done in by Disney by the summer of 1975, but memories remain for Farrington and organizers of the third annual Pirates World Reunion “A Blast from the Past.”

A meeting at Dania Beach Lions Club clubhouse for the event Aug. 1 focused more on pleasure than business.

The memories are as vivid as yesterday of the crow’s-nest observation tower and log flume ride plucked from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair; a steeplechase ride from Coney Island; seafaring replicas of Spanish galleons and the Wild Mouse roller coaster.

“There was nothing else like it, nothing else nowhere else,” said Scott Silvernale, whose job as a teen was to grease the tracks on the coaster. Silvernale’s mother, June Silvernale, a Dania Beach civic leader and matriarch since the early 1960s, quit her job as a hospital nurse to work at the park dressed like a hot dog. She was hired instead as the on-site nurse.

According to June Silvernale’s younger son, Jim, friendships were forged, couples met and married, and during a time when the Dania Police consisted of three officers, life was good. Pirates World was a destination point, said Farrington, who later became a flight attendant then an FAA inspector.

The place doubled as an arena staging the coolest music acts of the era including Ike and Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and David Bowie.

“I could be on a flight from Bangkok and if anyone mentioned Dania Beach someone else would mention Pirates World,” Farrington said.

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MIAMI WAX MUSEUM

Published Jan. 7, 1984

Pablo Picasso, Pope Paul VI, Jose Marti and Buffalo Bill are losing their home. So are Ponce de Leon, Abraham Lincoln and Henry Flagler.

They’re all wax figures in the Miami Wax Museum, which is closing its doors after almost 25 years, a victim of shifting vacation patterns and disappearing tourists. It is the only wax museum in South Florida.

The land and building, at 13899 Biscayne Blvd. in North Miami Beach, are being purchased for $750,000 in cash by State Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-North Miami, who plans to develop an office building.

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As for Buffalo Bill and his 40-odd wax friends, no one knows where they’ll go.

“After 25 years, I feel like I’m one of them,” said Pierre Dupeyroux, manager of the museum since it opened in 1959. “They’re my family.” Dupeyroux, a Frenchman who knows each figure’s history and quirks, admitted that he considered selling the museum for a while before finally advising the French and Canadian investors who own it to let it go.

He said the first big blow to business was the gasoline shortage of the early 1970s. Then Disney World began cutting into the flow of tourists to South Florida. After Miami’s riots and the Cuban boatlift, tourists became even more scarce.

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But the museum’s Biscayne Boulevard location, with its proximity to a strip-tease establishment, a pizza parlor, several bars and a used-car lot, has been a drawback, too.

When the museum opened, “we were led to believe by the mayor that a boom was coming here,” Dupeyroux said a few years ago. “I’m very mad at North Miami Beach. They let the boulevard go to pot here.”

Latin American tourists a few years ago brought a brief reprieve, and he installed such Latin displays as Jose Marti and Simon Bolivar. He even added plaques that explain the wax scenes in four languages.

But it wasn’t enough.

Tour buses no longer clog the parking lot. Dupeyroux doesn’t buy souvenirs to sell anymore. He’ll peddle what he can from the remaining stock of shell plant hangers, Confederate money and key chains, then donate the rest for a tax deduction.

On Friday morning, a handful of Japanese tourists entered the museum lobby, but left without walking through. That’s typical these days, Dupeyroux said.

“It’s a shame Miami is losing it, but there’s no way we can stay.” Margolis, who owns a North Miami Beach real estate company, has big plans for the museum. She wants to convert the interior into offices and construct a four-story office building behind it.

The museum is south of a proposed North Dade courthouse on the boulevard, and is near North Miami General Hospital, which plans a $40-million expansion. Margolis calls the area’s potential “astronomical” and said she hopes to attract doctors and lawyers as tenants.

Dupeyroux is trying to sell the entire wax-figure collection to one buyer, though he wouldn’t name the potential customer. A buyer would be acquiring a piece of wax museum history. Most museums these days use plastic to make their figures; the Miami museum was all pure wax.

The figures have real human hair, grown and sold by women in Central Europe. Many of the museum’s wax figures were hand-made of beeswax in Albert Chartier’s studio in Paris and cost $4,000 to $5,000 each.

Those figures were sculpted by artists practicing their dying craft, working from photographs sent from Miami. Others remain from the 1939 New York World’s Fair and from the original French wax museums.

And Dupeyroux resisted the industry’s recent movement to more and more gory displays — hangings, assassinations and the like. The only death scene here was the Alamo display. Even the Lyndon Johnson swearing-in scene was cleaned up: Jacqueline Kennedy’s red dress has just a few dabs of blood, nothing like the mess of blood and brain matter other museums use.

“This is a serious museum,” the manager would say. “We don’t push the gory side.”

In fact, at the museum’s exit is this sign: “We do not believe that a good sane citizen wants to see criminal or insane personalities and expose his children to the sight. This museum presents only courageous men who influenced our place as a great nation of the free world.”

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Six Flags Atlantis Miami Herald File

SIX FLAGS ATLANTIS

Published Aug. 20, 1992

Atlantis the Water Kingdom will close this month. But Atlantis the new amusement park/shopping center may open as early as next year.

The existing Hollywood water theme park will offer its last thrills Aug. 30, despite efforts by its Puerto Rico-based owners to extend their lease on the land along Interstate 95 south of Stirling Road.

Hollywood Inc., which owns the site, will build a larger water park just south of the existing Atlantis, Chairman Michael Swerdlow said Wednesday. In fact, Swerdlow may use the “Atlantis” name for the entire 800,000-square-foot shopping center scheduled to open between Stirling Road and Sheridan Street in the fall of next year.

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The new water slides could open next summer.

“We don’t really see what the people in Puerto Rico add to the park,” Swerdlow said. “We may get an operator (for a new Atlantis). We aren’t sure yet, but their lease is up” Aug. 31. \

hat operator could be the city of Hollywood, which Mayor Mara Giulianti said could run the park in return for some of the profits. City Manager Robert Noe met Monday to discuss the idea with Hollywood Inc. officials.

Giulianti said she wants to keep a theme park in Hollywood because it gives tourists and young people a place to go.

“We certainly aren’t going to risk any (money),” Giulianti said. “There would just be tax and financial advantages if the city were involved.”

Bob Morgan, who runs Atlantis the Water Kingdom for Florida Recreation, said he and his bosses hoped to stay open next year.

Now Swerdlow said they’ll have to remove their 12 water slides by about the end of November. Hollywood Inc. bought the 65-acre park from Six Flags Atlantis Ltd. for $16.5 million in 1988 and sold the slides and equipment to Morgan’s company. Morgan said his company’s lease keeps it from discussing relocation plans until next month.

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Wannado City in at the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise. JOE RIMKUS Miami Herald File

WANNADO CITY

Published Nov. 18, 2010

Sometimes make-believe is better than the real thing. But the realities of a faltering economy and a struggling business model proved too much for the fantasy sold at Wannado City — the Sawgrass Mills mall theme park where kids role-play grown-up jobs.

So six years after Wannado City opened to much fanfare as the first-of-its-kind family attraction in the country, park executives filed notice with the state this week that in January they will close their Sunrise attraction’s doors forever.

Gone will be the kid-scale fire engine with its wailing siren that rushed little firefighters to faux emergencies; the Cookery bakery where park visitors, dubbed “kidizens,” whipped up and decorated their own treats; the operating room where mini-surgeons removed rubber organs from a manikin; and all of the dozens of other Disney-like sets that made Wannado City the site of countless children’s birthday parties, and a launchpad for youthful imaginations.

“It’s very sad for me,” said Karen DeLeon of North Miami, who considers the park a must-see attraction for visiting family members and friends. “My niece was just in town. She’s 6,” DeLeon said.

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At Wannado City in Sunrise, kids get to do what they want to do: be a surgeon, a circus clown, newspaper reporter, artists, baker, police officer, archaeologist, pilot. Here is a view of one of the city’s many streets. The children’s attraction, packed with venues that let kids play grown up to the max, is discounted this summer for Florida residents and features a brand new Coca-Cola venue plus a lineup of special shows. Miami Herald File/ 2005

“My grandson is coming next month, and it’s always one of the places on my list where you can take them, and you don’t have to worry about them getting sunburned, or getting bit by mosquitoes, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money like at Disney.”

Trouble is that not enough people share DeLeon’s opinion, and some believe the park is too expensive and its ambience too inconsistent. Jodi Medow of Hollywood said she took her children — Hannah, 8, and Harrison, 6 — to Wannado City on Veterans Day, and was turned off by the $40 admission price for each child and $10 for each adult.

“I’m not surprised that they’re closing, because it’s very expensive,” Medow said.

And though the wait times for attractions were significantly shorter than Medow remembered from her first visit to Wannado City in 2007, she said the park felt abandoned, and the employees uninterested.

“I think it lost its concept when I was there the other day,” she said. “It didn’t seem the same. . . . It just didn’t seem as fun, I guess ‘cause it’s empty.”

One thing Wannado City was never designed to be is a ghost town. The $40 million theme park, which covers about 140,000 square feet, opened in the summer of 2004 with ambitious plans to expand with similar parks at malls in Chicago and New Jersey.

At the time, company executives even spoke of potential Wannado City parks in China, Dubai and Paris. But the park’s parent company, Mexico’s Corporación Interamericana de Entretenimiento, never built another Wannado City after the one at Sawgrass Mills.

Tigris, a triple-launch roller coaster, is Busch Gardens' ninth coaster.

Claudia Vargas, a Wannado City spokeswoman, said the company had no statement about the park’s closing.

A letter to the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation announcing the park’s closure offered a brief explanation from Wannado City Executive Director Eduardo Morones, who wrote that the company “has had financial instability since its opening date in 2004. “Throughout the years,” Morones wrote, “the operator went through many operational changes and company restructures trying to achieve a business that would at least break even.”

Wannado City never achieved that goal, even as the park’s operators over the years experimented with numerous changes to admission prices, operating hours and employee levels.

The park also struggled to recruit and retain sponsors for its attractions. (The Miami Herald has been a sponsor of the park’s newspaper.) Despite these efforts, park executives never could solve the underlying problem: low attendance. In its first full year of operation, for instance, Wannado attracted more than 500,000 visitors, but only 423,000 paid.

The company had forecast more than 600,000 visitors. After a busy hurricane season in 2005, attendance dropped off even more as schools canceled field trips and customers stayed away from the mall.

Wannado City began to fall behind on its debts, according to court records, and the company considered filing for dissolution with the state before reconsidering in 2007. Now the park is scheduled to close permanently on Jan. 12. All of Wannado City’s 314 employees will be laid off, according to Morones’ letter, though the company will offer severance benefits.

As one of Sawgrass Mills’ anchors, Wannado City will leave a glaring void in the sprawling shopping center — though not for long. Michael Goodman, a mall spokesman, said Sawgrass has “recaptured” Wannado City’s space by leasing to “popular name brand” retailers, though he would name only one: the luxury Italian label Prada, which will open in December.

“By mid-2012, the other stores will all be open,” Goodman said. None of those stores, though, are likely to mean as much as Wannado City does to 10-year-old Elisa Silverstein of Aventura, a regular visitor to the park and sometime performer in its circus.

“I like the fact that the kids can do what they want to do,” she said, echoing the park’s slogan. Among Silverstein’s memories of Wannado City: Learning the value of money through the park’s make-believe monetary system, which is based on a currency called Wongas.

Children earn Wongas through their role-playing jobs, and they spend them on goods and services, such as a manicure.

“It taught me to spend money wisely,” Silverstein said of the Wongas, “and it taught me about real life.”

In the end, though, Wannado City’s make-believe currency could not overcome the real-world economy.

OCEAN WORLD

Published July 2, 1994

Three decades of dancing dolphins and performing sea lions will come to an end this summer when Ocean World closes forever, the Fort Lauderdale attraction’s owners announced Friday.

The final day for the family-oriented park will be Aug. 31.

The news came as a shock to both employees and visitors at the small facility tucked against a canal off the 17th Street Causeway.

“That’s too bad. We really had a wonderful time here,” said Roseann Cavaluzzi of Cape Coral, who was pushing one son in a stroller and trying to keep an eye on two other youngsters running from tank to tank Friday afternoon.

President George Boucher said the decision was financial. The attraction was too cramped to remain competitive.

“In order to go forward, we had to be bigger,” he said. “We had to add more attractions. We couldn’t do it on this little parcel. “Back in 1965, I’m sure it worked real well. Suddenly, you blink your eye, and there’s tall buildings on all sides. It’s one of the busiest streets in the city out front.”

Parking was one of the worst problems. Vacant lots next door that used to handle overflow cars have been replaced by shopping centers. Ocean World may be replaced by a parking garage for the Florida Art Institute, which is owned by the same parent company in Pennsylvania and shares the lot at 1701 SW 17th St. Education Management Corp. bought Ocean World 10 years ago.

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With only 3 1/2 acres of exhibition space, Ocean World is outdated in the era of colossal tourist centers like Sea World in Orlando and the proposed Blockbuster Park on the Broward-Dade line. But some visitors liked the cozy atmosphere.

“I thought it was great,” said Robert Cavaluzzi. “I’ve been to Sea World a thousand times and I liked this better. You’re up closer. It’s not like sitting far away.”

Vanessa Huertas, 13, of Rochester, N.Y., was nose to nose with Tiger the dolphin in one of the portals of the main dolphin swim tank.

“What will happen to the animals?” she asked. “I love the dolphins. I want to be a marine biologist.”

She and her mother said they had been to other marine parks, but liked Ocean World the best. Boucher and park veterinarian Scott Gearhart said the dozen dolphins, nine sea lions and other animals will be moved to various places.

A pregnant dolphin, Cindy, was sent to the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys earlier in the week. Boucher and Gearhart also denied that the closure was caused by activists who oppose keeping dolphins in captivity.

“I wouldn’t give them one iota of credit,” Boucher said. “They’re not even a factor.” Nonetheless, outspoken industry critic Russ Rector was delighted to see the park go. “I’m glad to see Ocean World is closing,” he said. “Quite frankly, it had outlived its time and its place.”

Boucher said he’ll be out of work like the other 55 employees. The decision was made final Thursday night, he said. There were many tears Friday morning when Boucher broke the news.

“It was a very emotional meeting,” he said. “It was as difficult to tell as it was to receive it. For many of the employees here, it wasn’t just a job. There’s a very genuine, deep affection for the animals.”

He said the park attracted about 300,000 visitors a year, an average of just over 800 per day. Francine Mason of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau said it was marketed as a “boutique marine park” because of its intimate size. “Compared to Sea World, you could do Ocean World in a few hours rather than a day,” she said.

Neither she nor bureau President Dean Hofmeister thought the closing would harm the area tourist industry. Tourist surveys have found that Ocean World does not by itself draw people to South Florida, but that it’s a popular side trip for visitors and local residents.

When he learned the park was closing, visitor Doug Fanshawe of West Palm Beach reminisced back to the beginning.

“I was here when it opened,” he said. “I used to come when they had a chair lift over the shark pool, way up high.”

Fanshawe had returned Friday for what he estimated was at least his fifth visit. It was a three-generation trip, including his wife, daughters and granddaughter.

“I hate to see it go,” he said. “That’s a shame.”

SERPENTARIUM

Published July 22, 1984

After 37 years in South Dade, Bill Haast and his living, wriggling venom factory may be moving to Salt Lake City.

Haast, owner of the Miami Serpentarium, plans to relocate his five or six hundred snakes at the University of Utah Research Park.

The 37-year-old Serpentarium, a casualty of sagging tourism, will close in September and make way for a shopping center and four-story office building.

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Demolition starts on the Serpentarium in 1984 Rick McCawley Miami Herald File

Metro Commissioners Thursday approved a needed rezoning of the 5.24-acre Serpentarium site, at 12655 S. Dixie Highway. Janis Enterprises is paying Haast $3.25 million for the land. Construction could start as early as the first of next year, and take a year to a year and a half, said Janis representative Tony Macina.

Three nearby residents complained at Thursday’s zoning hearing about the height of the planned office building and possible traffic problems, but commissioners told them the project was actually smaller and less intrusive than the zoning allowed. Janis plans a one-story 56,400 square-foot shopping center and a 33,600 square-foot office building.

In Utah, Haast, 73, would continue a lifelong project: venom production and research. He started the Serpentarium to support that work. His new home at the research park would be the Innovation Center, a private corporation that specializes in developing high tech businesses.

Bradley Bertoch of the center said arrangements are being made for Haast to come there. Haast said the week of Labor Day will probably be the Serpentarium’s last.

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The Hurricane rollercoaster at Boomers from I-95 between Stirling and Griffins roads in Dania Beach. Miami Herald File

BOOMERS

Published May 2, 2011

It stood up to hurricane after hurricane, but after 10 years of ups and downs, twists and turns, bloodcurdling, hands-in-the-air shrieks and cries of “Let’s-ride-it-again, Dad!” the Dania Beach Hurricane has fizzled out.

The Hurricane was known to roller-coaster aficionados as the tallest wooden carnival-style ride in Florida. To motorists, it was that gargantuan contraption looming along the east side of Interstate 95 between Stirling and Griffin roads that made you wonder: What if termites start to feast on that thing?

Andy Hyman, general manager of Dania Coaster Limited, the company that operated the ride, said the bad economy was the death knell for the Hurricane.

“We had a great time. A lot of fun,” Hyman said. “But people are worrying about paying mortgages and/or credit cards, and putting food on the table. Parents don’t have $50 to give to their kids and say, ‘Hey, here you go. Ride the coaster and play video games for a few hours.’ “

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The Hurricane, a two-minute them e-park ride without the theme park on which to piggyback, opened on Nov. 1, 2000. Built to be hurricane-proof and costing $4.5 million to construct, it measures 100 feet tall and 3,200 feet long.

On its biggest down slope, the coaster’s six-seater cars flew past at 60 miles per hour. It’s next to Boomers, a video arcade/go-kart track/batting cage/kids’-party facility. Although not particularly successful as a business in recent years, the roller coaster had its memorable moments.

Five couples were married while riding the Hurricane. And a number of television commercials were shot on the coaster, which was once ranked by Amusement

Today magazine as one of the top 20 wooden coasters in the United States. Wooden coasters are a rare thing: Only 182 remain worldwide, compared to 2,300 steel coasters. On Tuesday, Hyman notified Joe Tortorella, general manager of Boomers — from whom the site was leased — that the coaster would be powering down in three days.

“I’m sorry to see it go, but they were not technically a part of Boomers. And Boomers will be OK,” Tortorella said. “We have 12 other rides and a substantial arcade.”

“I’ve never ridden the Hurricane, but I’m kicking myself because I was planning to make a side trip there while in Orlando on business in November,” said David Lipnicky, spokesman for Ohio-based American Coaster Enthusiasts, a national organization for amusement park and coaster operators. “I’ve had many friends ride the Hurricane and they had nothing but good to say about it. And that says a lot, because people who are enthusiastic about roller coasters are very serious about how they determine what makes for a good ride.”

Lipnicky said he hopes another ride operator will step up and revive the Hurricane. But Dania Beach officials say that is unlikely. Corine Lajoie, Dania Beach’s principal city planner, said that for some time Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeremy Earle has been approaching businesses around the Hurricane about the possibility of redeveloping the area to keep up with the city’s developing downtown core and the remaking of its antiquing zone into the Stirling Design District.

“The Hurricane has provided some great memories and was nostalgic when it was built,” said City Commissioner Walter Duke. “But the reality is the Griffin Road/I-95 corridor represents a major economic development area for our city.

“Between that and the Stirling Design District emerging to the south of that location, it was probably inevitable that we were going to try to convert the area where the Hurricane sits to a higher and better use at some point,” he said.

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The note to customers in 2000. Sun Sentinel

BLOCKBUSTER GOLF & GAMES

Published March 22, 2000

Blockbuster Golf & Games, a rare entertainment outlet in West Broward’s increasingly cluttered landscape of office buildings and strip malls, will close March 30 to make room for an office and retail project.

The 26-acre complex near Sawgrass Mills has been a recreational respite for families and business professionals for six years - offering bumper boats, batting cages, a driving range, miniature golf course and video arcade. But as new corporate parks, housing developments and strip malls have consumed neighboring parcels, property values have skyrocketed.

Despite steady crowds, Blockbuster reassessed its business strategy four months ago and decided to sell the property. The company signed a contract last month with developer Stiles Corp., the property’s original owner. Stiles expects to close the deal within 45 days. Blockbuster and Stiles officials declined to disclose the sales price.

bout 100 people will lose their jobs when the game center closes. Blockbuster spokeswoman Liz Green would not answer questions as to whether Golf & Games had been losing money.

“It’s simply not a fit for our business,” Green said. “We are about home entertainment.”

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Tom Kates, president of Stiles Realty Co., submitted redevelopment plans to Sunrise planning officials a few weeks ago that call for retail shops along Northwest 136th Avenue backed by office buildings visible from Interstate 595. Kates said the retail and office center will serve as a gateway to the city, which is bordered by Davie to the south and Plantation to the east. He added that the new office and retail center likely will mirror other nearby Stiles developments that have 60,000- to 100,000-square-foot office buildings, three to four stories high.

“I’m sure there are people who have used Golf & Games that will be a little disappointed. But these things happen, and that’s nothing we have control of,” Kates said. “This site is very important to us and the city. We want to create a first-class project.”

Former Blockbuster Chairman Wayne Huizenga launched Blockbuster Golf & Games in June 1994 as part of an effort to expand the video rental chain into an entertainment empire. That empire once included Blockbuster Music, adult game center Block Party and children’s play center Discovery Zone. He also planned to build Blockbuster Park, a sports and entertainment amusement park in Miramar. Huizenga’s plans were changed soon after Blockbuster was sold to Viacom in 1994.

Piece by piece, Viacom has sold off units that which were unprofitable. In 1997, Viacom moved Blockbuster to Dallas. With the death of Blockbuster Golf & Games, only the video rental stores remain in South Florida.

Leslie Anne Moore, president of the Sunrise Chamber of Commerce, said the new office and retail space will provide job opportunities within the community, but Golf & Games will be missed. For three years, the center has been host to the chamber’s annual corporate challenge — an event that draws 300 local business professionals.

“It has been a wonderful facility and corporate partner,” Moore said. “It will be sad to see it go.” Nick Perris, vice president of the Plantation Acres Homeowners Association, said West Broward has nothing like Golf & Games, with its combination of outdoor and indoor activities.

“They’re tearing it down?” said Perris, a 24-year West Broward homeowner. “Now where in the hell am I going to hit golf balls? Where’s daddy going to take the kids on the weekend? Where are you going to play video games?

“I’m really surprised. A lot of people are there all the time, and the game room’s always jumping. They’re just looking to make more money.”

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Steve Munoz, 14, right, plays “Killer Instinct” at Malibu Grand Prix with some advice from employee Yako Heredia in this 1995 file photo. Chuck Fadely MIAMI HERALD FILE

CASTLE PARK/MALIBU GRAND PRIX

Published Feb. 15, 1987

Castle Park, the fanciful and turreted putt-putt golf course that has become as synonymous with South Florida as tourists in loud shorts and black socks, has fallen victim to progress. The park, once proclaimed a fantasyland for “kids of all ages,” was being carried away piece by piece Saturday by its former patrons — apparently without permission. Go carts, boats and chunks of the myriad of castles disappeared into cars.

Whole castles would have vanished could anyone have carried them.

“The castle out front is beautiful. But it is solid concrete,” said Allen Frank, of Hollywood. “It’s a shame all this has to come down. They should put a big sign out front, ‘Take what you want.’ “

Castle Park is being demolished by the state to make way for the huge interchange at Interstates 95 and 595. Bulldozers had nibbled quietly at the park, reducing the bumper- boat pool, go-cart track and batting cages to rubble. But late last week, a huge hole was plowed through the gate of the largest castle — one-time home to video games, foosball, air hockey and the snack bar — in plain view of motorists on I-95.

All day Saturday they pulled off the highway: the souvenir hunters, the curious, the nostalgic and those who thought they could get in one last game of miniature golf. Castle Park, which has a sister park behind the Midway Mall in West Dade that is still open, has graced the east side of I-95 near State Road 84 for nine years.

The Broward park, with a miniature replica of the Disneyland castle, a concrete windmill, a fiberglass Arabian temple and a tiny haunted house, opened as a much touted tourist attraction April 28, 1978.

The 30-foot tower, moat and hundreds of colored lanterns at the center of the $1.8 million, five-acre park were hard to overlook. It’s proximity to I-95 — once viewed as a major plus — ultimately proved its downfall. T

he state Department of Transportation bought the site to make room for the interchange. It is among 1,369 homes and businesses bought to make room for I-595. A DOT official contacted Saturday took a dim view of the dozens of people that picked over the colorful bric-a-brac.

“They’re really trespassing and stealing because the property belongs to the state of Florida now,” said DOT spokesman Bill Fowler. “We came here when we were kids, and we’re still kids,” he said.

An official with the former owner of the park, Malibu Grand Prix of California, said people in the park are the DOT’s problem. The park was turned over to the state two weeks ago, said Gary Rudolph, a vice president with Malibu.

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