March 2, 2017
Contact: Manny Leto
History Center Puts Fairyland Sculptures on Display
Fairy tale scenes from one of Tampa’s early tourist attractions
will be on view at the Tampa Bay History Center.
(Tampa, March 2, 2017) – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Humpty Dumpty. Little Red Riding Hood. Once upon a time in Tampa, these storybook characters frolicked near the Hillsborough River at a place called Fairyland. After closing in the late 1990s, the fabled figurines disappeared, but the memory of times spent at Fairyland lived on in the imaginations of Tampa residents.
Those figures have found a new – if temporary – home at the Tampa Bay History Center. “Finding Fairyland: Rediscovering Tampa’s Lost Theme Park,” opening Saturday, March 18, will feature many of the original sculptures from Fairyland, on view to the public for the first time in 20 years.
The exhibit is made possible by local restaurateur Richard Gonzmart, who purchased the collection of Fairyland sculptures from the city of Tampa after they were discovered in a city storage facility.
Gonzmart is the fourth-generation president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, which includes the 112-year-old Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City as well as six other Columbia locations and four other restaurant concepts.
Gonzmart plans to restore the figurines – 11 scenes from classic fairy tales in all – and put them on public display, possibly outside at his restaurant Ulele in Tampa Heights located on Tampa’s Riverwalk.
“I wanted to save these figures because I wanted to share them with my grandchildren and with the children of Tampa,” Gonzmart said. “I remember going to Fairyland with my parents when I was a child and it was magical to me. If restoring and displaying these figures will encourage parents to slow down and share stories with their children, then it’s all worth it. That’s what I hope will happen.”
Opened in 1957, Fairyand was attached to Lowry Park Zoo. The free attraction was a favorite for local families, who entered via Rainbow Bridge before encountering a 20-foot-high Old Woman in the Shoe and Mary’s Little Red Schoolhouse along a winding path that included vignettes from 11 different nursery rhymes.
Fairyland was shuttered in the mid-1990s; the figurines resigned to a city storage yard before being recently re-discovered. Gonzmart purchased the figurines and plans to restore them to their original condition.
“It’s a throwback to a simpler time in Tampa,” said History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell. “It’s also a fun look at our more recent past.”
The exhibit will also include family photos taken at Fairyland over its more than 30 years in existence. Photos can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Finding Fairyland” opens March 18 at the History Center and is on view through May 21. For more information, visit TampaBayHistoryCenter.org, or call 813-228-0097.