Marineland of Florida
|Architect||John Walter Wood and M.F. Hasbrouch|
|Architectural style||Moderne style|
|Governing body||Georgia Aquarium|
|NRHP Reference #||86000831|
|Added to NRHP||April 14, 1986|
Marineland of Florida (usually just called Marineland), one of Florida's first marine mammal parks, is billed as "the world's first oceanarium". Marineland functions as an entertainment and swim-with-the-dolphins facility, and reopened to the public on March 4, 2006 (charging the original 1938 admission price of one dollar). In 2011, the park was purchased by the Georgia Aquarium for a reported 9.1 million U.S. dollars.
Marineland was first conceived by W. Douglas Burden, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Sherman Pratt, and Ilya Andreyevich Tolstoy (grandson of Leo Tolstoy) as an oceanarium that could be used to film marine life. A site was selected on the Atlantic Ocean south of St. Augustine, eventually known as the town of Marineland. The site of Marineland is within a 20,000-acre (8,100 ha) grant given to London barrister Levett Blackborne in 1767. The well-connected Blackborne, grandson of Sir Richard Levett, Lord Mayor of London, never settled his grant (nor even visited Florida), and eventually Blackborne's plantation was regranted to John Graham, a Georgia Loyalist fleeing the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, the land that is today Marineland was broken up over the years into smaller parcels.
Financing and construction presented challenges as Marineland was the first attempt at capturing and sustaining sea creatures. These challenges were overcome. Construction and engineering were carried out Arthur Franklin Perry Co. of Jacksonville. On June 23, 1938, "Marine Studios" (the name "Marineland of Florida" would later be adopted) began operations with its main attraction a bottlenose dolphin. Unexpectedly, over 20,000 tourists clogged Highway A1A to visit the new attraction. For many decades Marineland consisted of not only the oceanariums but several amenities including a motel (Marine Village Court, Marineland Motel and Quality Inn/Marineland); Dolphin Restaurant and Moby Dick Lounge; Periwinkle Snack Bar and Sandpiper Snack Bar; Marineland Marina; plus fruit shop and gift shop; and a pier at the north end of the facility. A Texaco service station was adjacent to the Periwinkle Snack Bar, and Greyhound Bus Lines stopped regularly during its St. Augustine to Daytona Beach run.
The total property area consisted of 125 acres (51 ha) sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Originally planned for the St. Augustine area, residents of that community did not look favorably on the attraction being located there; thus the new site south of Matanzas Inlet was chosen.
Having the grandson of Leo Tolstoy involved in the project helped Marineland become a very fashionable destination in its early days, prompting writers Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway to visit Moby Dick's Bar located there. Ms. Rawlings was married to Norton Baskin who at one time (1950s/early 1960s) was the operator/manager of the Dolphin Restaurant/Moby Dick Lounge. The park's facilities were very popular with tourists and also used for numerous movies, including Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Revenge of the Creature (1955). Trained dolphins became an additional attraction in the early 1950s as Marineland became one of Florida's major attractions, attracting over 900,000 visitors per year with peak attendance in the mid-1970s. The opening of Walt Disney World Resort in 1971 gave a major boost to the attraction's annual attendance. However, Sea World's entry into the Florida market eventually had a very negative impact on Marineland from the late 1970s through the 2009. Many publications erroneously[why?] note the peak attendance as having been 300,000.[clarification needed] The break-even admission point was actually 400,000, however, even during the 1950s.
Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney who was the major stockholder of the private company opted to sell the marine park in the mid-1980s to a group of St. Augustine businessmen. With declining attendance, bad management and other issues, the group was unable to meet their loan payments and the attraction was again put on the market. Ownership change was the norm from that point.
Eventually the maintenance demands of the old park became too costly for the real estate investment group who owned it at that time. The facility began to sink into disrepair as the owners desperately sought a buyer. Finally, through a convoluted deal involving junk bonds, the property was sold. The buyers planned to build time-share condominiums on most of the ocean hammock land but were unable to bring the plan to fruition. This effort resulted in bankruptcy for the buyers. In addition, the already-strapped oceanarium had been reconfigured as a non-profit foundation as part of the sale and was responsible for its own sustenance as well as repayment of the bond issue. Needed monies were not invested in repairs, and the shabby condition of the park offended even the most loyal fans. With no direct ownership, no funding, and the financial burden of bond interest payments, employees were left to cope with equipment failures, no marketing, loss of credit, bounced paychecks, government inspections and the custodianship of the marine mammals, fish and birds. During this era, many devoted individuals and businesses contributed materials and services to help employees keep the place going. In the end, the foundation repaid the bondholders pennies on the dollar, a large part of Marineland's dolphin population was sold off to Orlando, and the current owner came in and picked up the pieces.
Hurricanes Floyd and Irene in 1999 forced the park to close for two months. In 2003, all of the park buildings west of Highway A1A were demolished leaving only the original structures along the Atlantic Ocean. In 2004, the park closed completely for renovations, and reopened on March 4, 2006.
During the renovations the original 1938 Circular Oceanarium (400,000 US gallons (1,500,000 l; 330,000 imp gal)) and Rectangular Oceanarium (450,000 US gallons (1,700,000 l; 370,000 imp gal)) were demolished. The age of the original Dolphin Show at Marineland ended as the park reopened as a hands-on educational facility. Future plans for the area include a condominium development on former park lands. The rest of the old Marineland property wound up in the hands of Flagler County and now make up the River to the Sea Preserve one of the County's many parks.
With a gift from Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney of slightly more than 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land together with his donation of about half of the total constructions costs, on January 30, 1974 the University of Florida opened the Whitney Marine Laboratory adjacent to Marineland. This laboratory's purpose was the experimental study of marine animals but it was separate from the lab that was once operated by Marineland. Marine Studios through their Research Facility contributed greatly to the understanding of porpoises thanks to Arthur McBride, Forrest Wood and other marine biologists. The staff at Marineland was a "first responder" for hundreds of whale strandings along the southeastern Atlantic Coast during its existence.
Three bottlenose dolphins were born at the newly constructed Dolphin Conservation center in July 2008, two males and one female. The calves were named in November 2008.
In January 2011, Marineland was sold yet again and it is currently being operated as a subsidiary of the Georgia Aquarium. Now Marineland Dolphin Adventure, this dolphin resort offers several swim with dolphins programs as well as educational programs.
- "National Register of Historical Places - Florida (Fla.), Flagler County". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 1986. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "Marine Studios". Florida Heritage Tourism Interactive Catalog. Florida's Office of Cultural and Historical Programs. Retrieved 17 August 2007.[dead link]
- Ruggieri, Melissa (3 January 2011). "Georgia Aquarium buys Florida's Marineland". ajc.com. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
- "Town of Marineland Sustainable Tourism Comprehensive Plan Element" (PDF). law.ufl.edu. University of Florida Conservation Clinic. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
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