Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Take Me Down to Panama City

From Dave Brigham:

I visited Panama City Beach, Florida, recently with my wife and kids to get away from the brutal winter we've been having in eastern Massachusetts. We stayed in a pretty nice resort hotel, and spent a lot of our time eating at chain restaurants and hanging out in nicely buffed museums like Ripley's Believe It or Not and WonderWorks. While we got a little bit of local flavor at a few eateries, I felt the need to venture off the resort-filled main drag and poke around the underbrush.

Waking up early on our second morning there, before everybody else, I realized this was my best time to explore. The previous day we'd driven by countless surf shops, drive-through liquor stores, mini golf courses, motels, restaurants and pawn shops. Any of those places would have made for some great photos, but instead I headed first for an abandoned structure that I honestly couldn't identify.

After cruising around the Abandoned Gulf Coast web site, I found some photos of the good old days of Panama City Beach. This led me to the Flickr account of one of the members of that site. This guy told me that this building used to be a bar. I tried to join a Panama City Beach-related Facebook page to post my photo and ask members for more details, but my request has to be processed. If I find out more, I'll update this post.

For more cool photos of the entertainment heyday of Panama City Beach, check out the Parks and More and Buildings sections of the Abandoned Gulf Coast site.

While at first my eye was drawn to the mammoth beachside hotels and condominium complexes, I soon realized that there were a LOT of empty concrete slabs all over Panama City Beach, including this one two doors down from our hotel.

This, of course, led me to Google, where I learned that this town used to be a lot more honky tonk, with motels galore (the Fiesta, Inn Paradise, Trade Winds, Rip Tide, Barney Gray), locally owned restaurants and numerous theme parks (Miracle Strip Amusement Park, Jungle Land [which now houses Alvin's Island Magic Mountain Store], Goofy Golf, Castle Dracula, the Ocean Opry, Petticoat Junction, the Snake-a-Torium).

The Inn Paradise still stands, but has been stripped and will be torn down and replaced, according to what I've read online.

Here's a video looking back at the heyday of Miracle Strip Amusement Park:

Here's a video of the Sky Ride at Miracle Strip:

I found this remnant of the Sky Ride launch area while driving past Shipwreck Island Water Park:

I wish I could travel back in time to Panama City Beach during the 1950's and '60's, to see all the goofy, home-spun roadside attractions, enjoy unobstructed views of the beach and maybe catch a drive-in screening of "Gidget." And back to the time when this property was vibrant and filled with happy beach-goers, instead of fallow and overgrown.

I'd also like to travel back to the more recent future, to warn whoever planned this development, to let them know that it might be a bad idea to place a multi-story hotel or condo complex in a residential neighborhood. I assume the economic downturn in 2008 had something to do with this project being abandoned. Will somebody pick up the slack?

I spent approximately five hours spread across three early mornings pin-balling around town in my rental car, trying to find the forgotten side of a beach community that in this century has morphed from part of the Redneck Riviera to Spring Break Central.

I learned through my research online of Joe Breakbill, aka Flamingo Joe, who owned a a restaurant and market in Panama City Beach before passing away suddenly in 2013 at age 66. He opened Flaming Joe's Market just a few months before his death. The store was damaged during a storm not long after his death. At some point in the last 18 months the store was wiped off the face of the Earth.

Goodbye, PCB.

12 comments:

  1. Nice Article Dave, We will be Panama City next week!

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  2. Please, Please, let us know when you find out more about the first structure you mentioned...it's been bugging me for years!

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    1. Hi Leslie -- I'll keep digging. If you find out anything, please let us know!

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    2. Uturn Sunburn Saloon...called that because it was near 79 where everyone would turn to go back and cruise the other side of the strip...I worked there..it was fun

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  3. The first structure closed after hurricane Opal it was called the U turn Sunburn Saloon

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    1. Thanks! I learned this recently via a PCB Facebook group.

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  4. I was just about to answer, then I saw the mystery was solved! I've spent many afternoons in that pool at the UTurn. I'm gonna go home and find a pic!!

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  5. The concrete structure was not to be a hotel but a parking deck for a condo that was never built.

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    1. Good to know. Thanks! Do you think it will ever get developed, or will that structure get torn down eventually?

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  6. The first structure (the one shaped like rocks) was the U-Turn Sunburn Saloon, closed and abandoned in Hurricane Opal back in '95. To this day it still stands.
    The sky ride closed sometime from 1971 to 1975, and as of 2016 there was still one last bucket up in the wires, although that may have fallen since I last went there.
    The Inn Paradise remains an empty lot.
    I didn't know of its' demolition, but apparently the old Flamingo Joe's Market is gone, too - sometime between June of '15 and May of '16.
    All I wanna know, though, is where the picture after the skyride one was taken.

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    1. Hey Ryan: Thanks for the info! The picture after the sky ride was taken on the corner of Gardenia St. and 392A (Pennel Street). I doctored the colors a bit, so it won't look quite the same.

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