It's a long way from Broumana, Lebanon, to Miami, but then, it took George A. Hamid, Sr., more than sixty years to get there.
Hamid was born in Lebanon in February, 1896, and spent more time on the streets learning how to tumble than he ever did in school. In 1907 his Grandmother sent him to travel with his Uncle, who was with an acrobatic troupe then touring Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. George joined the show and found early success as an acrobat, but he eventually got into the business side, becoming a booking agent by 1920.
Hamid started by booking circus and outdoor acts into state and county fairs and eventually worked his way into running the fairs, taking over the New Jersey State Fair in 1936. In 1945 he took over operation of Atlantic City’s fabled Steel Pier. Meanwhile, he also remained in the circus business, starting his own show which merged with Bob Morton's show to become the Hamid-Morton Circus in 1932.
Somewhere in there Hamid also found time to raise a family. His son, George A. Hamid, Jr., would, after getting a degree at Princeton and a stint in the military in World War II, join his father in the business and, working together, they expanded their entertainment empire to include the circus, fairs, the pier, theatres, amusement parks, and all sorts of amusement enterprises, including even both men becoming two of the original partners in a little upstart professional football team known as the Miami Dolphins.
In the early 1950's the Hamids began searching for a suitable place in South Florida to build a circus winter quarters that would also operate as a tourist attraction. They first bought about five acres in Fort Lauderdale to build this new facility, but these plans were subsequently abandoned when, in 1956, the Hamids bought out Tropical Panorama, a small, eight acre tourist attraction located off of Biscayne Boulevard (US 1) at 185th Street in North Miami. A water stadium was added and plans were made to dredge a channel to the site so that the popular boat tours of the time might bring in shiploads of eager customers. Their new attraction, now christened Aquafair, opened on December 22nd, 1956.
Aquafair was an attempt to create a Steel Pier like winter attraction, with a water-based show featuring acts imported from Atlantic City, including the comedy stylings of "Russ Dodson and his Diving Collegians," and also the Hamid's signature diving horse act (yes, that is a real horse, with rider, plunging from a high platform into a pool of water). The park also still offered trained porpoises, animal displays, and alligator wrestling. The Hamids also hoped to breed and train new animal acts there for their circus.
Business at the attraction was only fair, however, and dropped off after the first two seasons. Aquafair only operated through the end of 1959, when the Hamids leased the land to fellow circus impresario Clyde Beatty. Beatty planned to again renovate and reopen the site, this time as "Clyde Beatty's Jungleland," borrowing the name of an attraction he had earlier operated in Fort Lauderdale.
George A. Hamid, Sr. died in 1971. George, Jr., who had become known as the King of the Atlantic City Boardwalk due to his extensive holdings sold off most of his business interests there in 1975 to concentrate on the New Jersey State Fair and the circus. He sold his interest in the fair in the 1990's. The circus, now simply the Hamid Circus, still tours and is still in the family, with George Jr.'s son James, and his son James, Jr., keeping the tradition alive.
The Aquafair attraction is not related, by the way, to Miami Beach's annual Aqua Art Fair, associated with the Aqua Hotel.
Note: the attractions profiled on this site are no longer in business.Return To Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions
Postcard image from the author's collection.
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