A Rich Look at Florida’s Tourist Attraction History

   Sebring International Raceway Press Officer Ken Breslauer has released a new book that is a must for anyone who enjoys the Sunshine State and the tourists who come here.
  “Florida Roadside Attraction History” in fact is a complete guide to the Florida tourist attractions before Disney and offers a real insight to the wide array of ideas that promoters had to try to lure travelers off the beaten path.
  A follow-up to his 2000 soft cover book “The Golden Age of Florida’s Tourist Attractions 1929 – 1971,” the new hardbound book delves more deeply into the era of roadside attractions and is rife with both black & white and color photographs of the parks as well as advertising logos, posters, bumper stickers and souvenirs.
  The book is a little bittersweet , inasmuch as most of the places outlined have long since closed, were abandoned or in some way have become converted. Breslauer notes, for instance, that between the time he started writing the book and the time it reached publication, a brace of quintessential Florida attractions had ceased to exist in their original state.
  Cypress Gardens has been absorbed into Legoland Winter Haven, Silver Springs has become a state park, Parrot Jungle was relocated and renamed and the original Marineland was demolished.
  Starting with an historical perspective of the conditions that gave rise to the era of small tourist attractions smattered around the Sunshine State, the book then outlines the routes that tourists took to find these points of interest and finishes with a definitive A to Z listing of familiar and some not so familiar locales.
  While mentions of Florida’s natural wonders such as Silver Springs date as far back as the 1870s, entertainment-style attractions like alligator wrestling apparently didn’t start until the early 1900s.  Over the course of time a wide array of options became available to tourists as the highway system through Florida began to develop.
  There were lots of different roadside attractions – although most began to congregate along three major routes – The Dixie Highway, Tamiami Trail and the Orange Blossom Trail. However, as Americans went to air travel, much like when the new highway passed Radiator Springs in the Disney/Pixar film “Cars,” those attractions faded quietly into history.
  While many people have forgotten, Bresaluer has not and his A to Z list of attractions may well be the best part of the book.
  Starting with Africa USA in Boca Raton and ending with Earl Gresh’s “Wood Parade,” the listing winds through an amazing collection of attractions including botanical gardens. automobile collections, wild west themes, zoological parks, religious displays, towers, and a variety of alligator, chimp, ostrich and other “farms.”
  Some of the more interesting entries include “Bongoland,” a wooded area populated with giant, stone sculpted dinosaurs, the Coral Castle – with it’s unique structures and even more interesting back story, the canine-dedicated park called Dog Land, the miniature village called “Midget City” and the ubiquitous “Moonshine Exhibition.”
  As interesting as the chronicle of the more than 200 different attractions, is the way various promoters tried to entice tourists through their respective front gates. Breslauer has amassed an astonishing collection of photos, promotional pieces and advertisements that you won’t see anyplace else.  Page after page of these examples of period art are alone well worth the price of this coffee table book. In short, it is another star in a long list of books by this Florida historian and a must for anybody who enjoys the wonderful culture and history of the Sunshine State.
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