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.
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.