In 1973 the Felds (then owners of Ringling Bros.) built "Circus
World Showcase" on US 27, just east of I-4 -- supposedly a preview
center for a new "Circus World" theme park to combine circus based
rides and shows with a new winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers
Barnum & Bailey Circus. The first building was a 27,000 sq. ft structure
built to look like a giant circus tent -- right down to the tent poles.
It housed an IMAX theater, circus memorabilia displays, and a model
of the proposed park. It opened in February, 1974.|
I say "supposedly" because there was no way the usually cash strapped Feld organization could have possibly been able to afford the lavish park the plans called for -- no doubt the showcase was meant to attract investment as well as tourists. It didn't.
Through 1974 and 1975 new displays, shows, and a carousel were added, as well as a theater to house the big circus act show, "The Day The Circus Came To Town". An audience participation show allowing guests to try their hand at walking the tightrope or flying the trapeze (with a safety harness) also debuted. The "Showcase" part of the name was dropped.
Then Feld sold out Ringling Bros. to Mattel. Yes, toy making, Barbie producing Mattel -- the same company that would sell Feld the circus BACK in a few years, at a loss.
Mattel never really wanted Circus World, but it came with the deal. They tried to sell it, but without luck. Meanwhile, they had these plans for expansion that would make it a more valuable property -- so they expanded.
By 1982 (the date on the map I'm looking at) Circus World offered, in addition to everything previously mentioned, a wooden roller coaster (the Roaring Tiger), an Arrow shuttle loop (Flying Daredevil), a diving show, a wild west show, animal displays (including "the world's largest elephant barn"), a petting zoo, a children's play area, and several carnival rides, including an Enterprise. On the 1982 visit when I got that map I remember thinking it was a fun little park, but needed work. It wasn't very crowded.
In 1984 Mattel gave up and sold out to developer Jim Monaghan for $10 million (a bargain, given replacement value). Monaghan added landscaping and fixed the place up, as well as adding more rides (like a giant Ferris wheel and the Schwarzkopf designed Weiner Looping Coaster).
This brings us up to 1986, when publisher Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich swept through Florida in a buying frenzy acquiring everything in sight (including Sea World, Stars Hall of Fame, and Cypress Gardens.) They made Monaghan an offer he couldn't refuse (much more than the $10 million he had paid for it) so he sold out and took the profit.
HBJ decided that the park needed a change of theme, so, in late 1986 they shut it down and remodeling construction began on a new park: Boardwalk and Baseball
Return To Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions, a site celebrating the now defunct tourist attractions of the Sunshine State. The attraction profiled on this page no longer exists.
The Original Tent/Building: Postcard in the author's collection. (Note the entrance in the center of the building and the newly planted trees.)
Photos (from 1978) courtesy Florida State Archives Photographic Collection.
This site Copyright (c) 1997-2011 by Robert H. Brown