Florida’s golden age of roadside attractions began with the dedication of Bok Tower in Lake Wales on Feb. 1, 1929 and continued until the opening of Walt Disney World on Oct. 1, 1971. Improved infrastructure during the Good Roads Movement made this significant era of Florida’s tourism possible.
Old timers may remember two of these roadside attractions along the Pinellas beaches: The Aquatarium in St. Pete Beach and Tiki Gardens in Indian Shores. Escalating land prices–along with the growth of mega-attractions that offer climate-controlled escapism–hastened the demise of most smaller venues that emphasized Florida’s natural splendor.
A Coastal Playground
After Welch Causeway connected the mainland with Albert Archibald’s Madeira holdings on July 4, 1926, Archibald created an early coastal roadside attraction. Although his original casino suffered damage, he remodeled it into a bathhouse, built a new casino, and added a restaurant and other amenities. He secured electrical and telephone service by 1928.
Crowds flocked to Archibald’s attraction years before residential developments appeared along Madeira Beach. Swings, rides, and picnics brought the first waves of tourists. Archibald’s early success may have inspired the opening of Joyland Pavilion on Clearwater Beach in July 1928, a larger amusement park that included a waterslide, ferris wheel and the “Silver Dome Hall” with performances.
‘Tin Can Tourists’ camped in and alongside their jalopies on these beaches without anyone bothering them. Before county commissioners passed an ordinance in July 1935, vehicles also drove upon the shoreline of local public beaches.
To compete with Joyland, Archibald added a concrete skating rink, small merry-go-round, and high tobaggan slide in early 1929. Sleds plunged into an artificial pool dug into the sand. Patrons enjoyed music, dancing, and animal shows. By 1932, small cottages appeared nearby, as his Madeira holdings transformed from a stand-alone attraction into a resort.
A Stormy Day and New Animal Shows
An unusual storm with strong winds and high tides flooded Pinellas beaches in early March 1932. Hitting at the height of the tourist season, the tidal surge undermined Archibald’s casino and skating rink, damaged the toboggan slide, and filled its pool with sand. Other rides suffered irreparable damage. Soon after the storm, Archibald closed his casino.
Despite this setback, Archibald found new ways to attract people to Madeira Beach. In 1933, he purchased an 80-foot private yacht seized by the Coast Guard during Prohibition. Rechristened “Archie’s Ark,” this boat became a gathering place along the mostly uninhabited beach.
In 1935, Archibald brought one of the first Canadian snowbirds–make that a ‘snow bear’–to the area when he acquired a young Canadian cub that ran wild along Madeira Beach and swam in the Gulf. Although placed in a cage much of the time, the small bear had a reputation for chasing people along the beach that summer.
Bill and Leon Walsh, owners of a fishing camp north of Johns Pass, invited tourists to a duck farm they started on their property in July 1935. A trainer who traveled with the circus made Johns Pass his winter home and invited audiences to watch as he trained dogs, monkeys, and other animals.
Jack Hurlbut opened Marine Arena at Johns Pass on July 4, 1953. Located a few steps from the original 1927 Johns Pass bridge, this attraction featured a variety of marine life, including Paddy the Porpoise in the early 1960s. During the busy tourist season, Marine Arena offered 3 porpoise shows a day. Marine Arena closed in 1965, shortly after the larger Aquatarium opened near 64th Avenue in St. Pete Beach. The Johns Pass Aquarium briefly operated there during the late 1970s.
End of an Era
Nothing remains of Archibald’s Madeira attractions. Although a couple of his 1920s-era buildings found new life as shops, the last of them faced the wrecking ball in the 1970s. Condos immediately south of Archibald Memorial Beach Park occupy the site of his former casino.
Similarly, condos and the Pier 60 parking lot have replaced Clearwater Beach’s Joyland Pavilion. Tiki Gardens closed in the late 1980s, now transformed into a county-managed beach access parking lot. A store occupies the former Marine Arena building. The Aquatarium, renamed Shark World in a last-ditch effort to attract visitors after the 1975 film Jaws, closed in 1977. Condos sit upon that site today.
Although Archibald’s attractions operated for only a few years, his long-range hopes of luring people to Madeira Beach certainly succeeded.