The Life & Death Of Ocean View Park: Norfolk’s Bygone Amusement Park

Having done an archive for the other old parks of the Hampton Roads (Buckroe Beach & Seaside), it’s time to circle back to the one that first introduced me to the local parks of yesteryear, Ocean View Park.

Since the dawn of time, I knew about Ocean View’s former existence and prominence along the Norfolk coast.

There’s a fair share of media, memories, and information about it still available today. So, my aim is to compile it all here–a tribute to what once was.

And long overdue… while Ocean View fascinated me since childhood, after three years of exploring other defunct parks, I’m only just now getting around to the one I knew about first. One that’s still very beloved in the 757 area. And, one that still lives on in part through two films shot at the park.

So without further banter, let’s take a trip back to “the most modern and attractive park in the South,” Ocean View Park.

History

Ocean View Park parallels Seaside and fellow trolley parks in origins.

These parks were born of a transportation company needing an attraction to persuade passengers to pay to ride to the end of that company’s route. Because no one was paying extra money to ride the train to a dead end. So, what better solution than to build an amusement park at that dead?

And despite what Wikipedia has inaccurately marked for Ocean View’s opening year (not sure why), Ocean View Park’s earliest incarnation opened in 1896.

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Postcard Of Ocean View Park Circa 1900s

The Birth Of Ocean View Park

The Ocean View Traction Company is the lucky transportation company who stars in the origin story of today’s post.

In 1890s, OVTC built the first trolley car line into Ocean View, a coastal community tucked along the Chesapeake and Willoughby Bays as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

They were in the aforementioned plight of trying to get folks to pay to ride the entire line into Ocean View. And being that their situation was common amongst the transportation industry, they saw the solution their competitors were finding success in: building an amusement park at the end of the line.

So, OVTC built and opened Ocean View Park in 1896 with a pavilion, picnic area, games, and a toboggan slide. Sometime before 1901, a Ferris wheel was added to the park.

This solution worked excellently for the Traction Company, as their routes saw full capacity as Ocean View Park drew in great crowds.

Instantaneously, Ocean View was off to a prosperous start.

The Life Of Ocean View Park

The Ocean View Hotel opened in 1903 along the shore.

In 1904, Richmond amusement park entrepreneur Otto Wells took over the ownership of Ocean View Park. For the 1905 season, he added new attractions like the circle swings and sideshow novelties.

His best addition yet that year was the Figure Eight, an early form of a roller coaster.

The Figure Eight was swiftly followed by the Scenic Railway, a switchback railway, in 1906. The Scenic Railway tore through its course at the exhilarating (for 1906) speed of 10 mph.

Doumar, the inventor of the waffle cone at the 1904 World’s Fair, opened an ice cream stand in the park. On a packed day in 1907, the ice cream stand sold 22,600 cones. This prompted Doumar to open another location at Seaside Park in Virginia Beach, and then a parlor/diner in Norfolk that’s still operational today.

In 1911, the premier Leap-the-Dips roller coaster was built. The coaster is best remembered as The Rocket.

The earliest version of Leap-the-Dips (1911 edition) was sizably damaged in a fire in 1914. As evident, Ocean View Park rebuilt the coaster a little bigger, a little better under the same name.

In 1928, Leap-the-Dips received new upgrades and safety modifications. It was made taller (from 77 feet to 90 feet), faster (to 50 mph), and had up-stop wheels added to keep the trains from jumping the track. This refurb of Leap-the-Dips is when its named was changed to the Skyrocket.

In later years, the Skyrocket was abbreviated to just The Rocket (the coaster’s final name).

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The Skyrocket Roller Coaster Circa 1920s

In the 1920s, the Ocean View Park Ballroom (also called the Casino) opened, offsetting the loss of the Ocean View Hotel that succumbed to fire in 1925.

Come 1933, Ocean View Park took a major hit when the Hurricane Of 1933 struck that August. The storm dealt at least $200,000 in damages (nearly $5 million today). The bathhouse, west end of the Casino, and a portion of the pier were a few of the losses in the park.

Doumar’s stand was another one of the destroyed novelties in the park, prompting them to open their present day location off Monticello Avenue.

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Bathhouse Damage From The 1933 Hurricane

In 1942, the park was sold to local businessman Dudley Cooper.

Dudley had considered closing Ocean View Park and developing its land, but the military base advocated for the park to stay. The base fancied it for its servicemen to enjoy before and in-between deployments.

This changed Dudley’s mind and he continued to operate Ocean View Park and even added new sideshow oddities.

In 1946, the United Civic Organizations of Ocean View penned a letter to Dudley stating that they were “alarmed and aroused over the new low in morality, vulgarity, obscenity, and depravity that has not only been permitted but encouraged” at the park by independent contractors and vendors.

Dudley was likewise put off by the sketchy behavior and swiftly took legal action to shut down the occurrences. The problem was resolved within a few years.

All the while, Dudley put a lot of work into scaling the popularity of Ocean View Park. He often worked 16 to 18 hour days polishing the park, adding new attractions, and creating a family friendly environment. By 1947, the park was home to 22 rides.

Rolling into the 1950s were the most popular days of Ocean View Park. The park ran advertisements declaring that it was “Bigger and Better Than Ever!”

With the rise of interstates, motor vehicles, and motels, families flocked to Ocean View. This prompted the addition of Kiddieland, an area with 5 new children’s attractions. The flagship of them was the kiddie coaster, Skyrocket Jr.

Stunt performers, competitions, and pageants were held at Ocean View Park during this time.

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Ocean View Park’s Midway Attractions

The bustling times at the park hit a wall when in Februrary 1958, a fire began in the storage shed near the Skyrocket.

This fire tore through the park in the 30 mph winds, reducing over half of the park to rubble. The carousel, Casino/ballroom, pavilion, concessions, sideshows, and the western portion of the Skyrocket were lost to this fire. Ocean View Park and the Skyrocket were rebuilt.

The 1960s saw the decline of Ocean View Park.

Crowds were dwindling, operational and insurance costs were rising, and new attractions were more expensive. The park last turned a sustainable profit around the mid-1960s.

This problem was exacerbated when in November 1964, another fire erupted. More concessions, the skee-ball alleys, shooting gallery, maintenance buildings, and park office were lost. When the fire reached the shooting gallery, it exploded.

Amusement parks, up until approximately the 1970s, used real guns and ammos in their shooting galleries. And as such, the ammunition in the gallery prompted the fire to detonate it.

After the 1964 fire, none of the original structures of Ocean View Park remained.

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Ocean View Amusement Park In Its Final Years

The Death Of Ocean View Park

By the 1970s, Ocean View Park was financially limping along.

It still contained a variety of rides, games, concessions, and The Rocket. But the park was no longer able to support itself.

1975 saw the final blow when Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened. Kings Dominion also opening that year, albeit further up the road, likewise did not help.

As all traditional amusement parks faced, the contemporary amusement parks held advantages that forced a great many of older parks to close.

The newer parks had insight on the mistakes and problems faced by older parks (like limited size with little opportunity to expand), newer technologies to implement in their parks (modernized rides and air conditioned buildings), and a fresh budget to grow.

Traditional parks would have to find the funding to modernize themselves to contemporary standards to compete and survive amongst this new age of amusement parks. Cedar Point is the prime example of an old, traditional park making this change to a modern, contemporary park.

Many, many traditional amusement parks were not able to make this transition–more precisely, over 1,500. Ocean View Park was one of them.

A brief rainbow in the storm occurred in the film Rollercoaster being shot at Ocean View Park in 1976. It didn’t help in boosting profits for the park, but it did help preserve it digitally.

Ocean View Park closed Labor Day 1978 due to loss in revenue and local competition. The City of Norfolk bought the site from Dudley Cooper.

As both Norfolk and Dudley were figuring the specifics of dismantling the park, American film producer Michael Trikilis proposed using Ocean View Park in his disaster film. He would blow the attractions up for his shoot and be responsible for removing the debris.

This proposal moved forward. So in 1979, The Death of Ocean View Park was filmed at the park.

The film’s climax, the demise of The Rocket, posed challenging for the production crew–much to the delight of Ocean View locals who watched the film being shot.

The Rocket was rigged with dynamites, explosives, and 200 pounds of gasoline poured about the track. Cameras started rolling, the explosives were detonated, and The Rocket didn’t budge.

This being the same Rocket that previously faced two fires and was now 68 years old, a second attempt with the same number of explosives and gasoline continued to do naught in destroying the roller coaster.

The film crew then resigned to having to saw through beams of the support frame and attach cables to tractors to pull at the coaster for their third attempt. More gasoline, more dynamites, dismembered wood beams and tractors pulling at the frame… The Rocket finally succumbed to its fate.

Dudley Cooper’s son was quoted saying, “What’s interesting is that people were afraid to have their children ride the roller coaster because they thought it didn’t look safe. It was so strong, they couldn’t even blow it up. It was pulled down.”

Some attractions that weren’t destroyed for the film were auctioned off while the rest were demolished in 1979.

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Aerial View Of Ocean View Park

The Park

Ocean View Park spanned roughly 10 acres and boasted at least 22 rides in its prime.

Below is a list of attractions that were at Ocean View Park for a period of time throughout the park’s 83 year lifespan.

Attractions

  • Casino/Ballroom
  • The Rocket
  • Penny Arcade
  • Tea Cups
  • Carousel
  • Bumper Cars
  • Circle Swing
  • Mini Golf
  • Kiddieland
  • Sky Ride
  • Round Up
  • Airplane Swing
  • Tunnel of Fun
  • Laff In The Dark
  • Skyrocket Jr
  • Figure Eight
  • Scenic Railway
  • Trabant
  • Sky Slide
  • Paratrooper
  • Ferris Wheel
  • Toboggan Slide
  • Skee-Ball Alley
  • Shooting Arcade
  • Bathhouse
  • Miniature Train
  • Roll O Plane

If there are any attractions that I’ve missed, please let me know in the comment section below!

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The Site Of Ocean View Amusement Park Today

Remains

The site of Ocean View Park is still referred to as Ocean View Park. It’s transitioned from being an amusement park to a beach park with a band shell, boardwalk, fields, and a parking lot.

The far south end of the site has a condominium complex, Nansemond on the Bay, that also sits on old park land. In fact, where the condos are today is where the Ocean View Hotel stood in the early 1900s.

The Rocket was just north of where the condos are and ran along what’s now Ocean View Avenue.

Across from this was the trolley station that started it all. Today, it is now the Mary D Pretlow Anchor Branch of the Norfolk Library, in which the Ocean View Station Museum is located.

The Ocean View Station Museum has memorabilia from Ocean View Park–from letters from the Ocean View Hotel to ride vehicles from Kiddieland and The Rocket alike.

There’s not really much, if anything, left at the site to indicate it had formerly been an amusement park.

Ocean View and its locals fondly remember the park and its history, hence the museum across the street. But there’s not any remains left on site hearkening to the park’s past.

The beach, however, can be enjoyed as it was when Ocean View Park reigned its landscape.

Legacy

As touched on above, Ocean View Park left a mark that lives on uniquely from that of some of the other old time parks.

Some of the park’s legacy can be enjoyed through these three novelties below.

Ocean View Station Museum

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The Rocket Coaster Car At Ocean View Station Museum

The Ocean View Station Museum is home to a great deal of history concerning the park and remnants of the park too.

A restored ride car from The Rocket is on prominent display in the museum, with the park’s iconic clown, Candy, aboard.

It’s not uncommon for the museum staff to offer a photo opportunity aboard The Rocket car. And let’s just say, my coaster enthusiast lifespan has never seen a coaster car so spacious. They’re definitely not as roomy as they used to be! (For safety reasons, in part.)

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Aboard The Rocket Coaster Car

A sizable collection of photos, signs, merchandise, other ride vehicles, and more from Ocean View Park are located in the museum.

And, crucial bits of park history are preserved in the museum too.

No resource online had the definitive date of The Rocket’s (then Leap-the-Dips) opening year beyond being between 1907 and 1914. Likewise, you’re going to be hard pressed to find photos of the Scenic Railway online (if it’s even been digitalized).

The museum staff are super friendly and knowledgeable about Ocean View history, with many first hand memories and stories not commonly found in the history books.

Ocean View Station Museum is a volunteer based museum with free entry. So if you go, consider supporting them through a donation or buying a t-shirt from their merch stand to help their efforts.

Rollercoaster (1977 Film)

Rollercoaster is a 1977 film by James Goldstone about a bomber terrorizing amusement parks, sending a safety inspector and the FBI on a wild goose chase across the States as they try to stop him.

Parks featured in the film include Ocean View Park, Kings Dominion, and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

The Ocean View Park segment opens the film and features The Rocket as the main target of the bomber.

A fair share of footage showcasing night shots of the park preserve a vantage point of the midway at night during the park’s final years.

An array of twinkling lights, carnival games, and funfair music capture the vibe of what Ocean View Park was once like. The sky ride, trabant, Ferris wheel, and ample footage on and off-ride of The Rocket are also included amongst the scenes.

The Death Of Ocean View Park (1979 Film)

The Death Of Ocean View Park is a 1979 film by EW Swackhamer about a woman who starts having visions about an impending disaster happening at a local amusement park, Ocean View Park.

This film captures the actual destruction of Ocean View Park as well as more scenes and footage of the park prior to demolition.

Locals are quick to say that the movie itself is comically bad, but that it does well in preserving the park through its footage and generates a sense of nostalgia–literally for just the park scenes (most skip about the plot).

Many locals do enjoy spotting extras in the background, as often times either they themselves or their loved ones served as extras in the scenes.

So while The Death Of Ocean View Park is about as sour to watch as it is sour that Ocean View Park is gone, it records a lot of the last footage of the park as well as its actual demise.

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Ocean View Amusement Park

Memory Lane

Ocean View Park is probably one of the most well known lost amusements in the Hampton Roads, despite being outlived by the others like Buckroe and Seaside.

Some would argue that in its prime, it was more popular than the others in their peaks. And, the two films featuring the park as well as the museum preserving its history is a rare advantage Ocean View’s legacy has.

There’s really ample knowledge and information around today to provide a pretty accurate record chronicling the park, from its blossoming debut in 1896 to its fiery demise in 1979.

A great blast from the past book, Lost Attractions Of Hampton Roads by Nancy E Sheppard, also details Ocean View Park and includes vintage photos of it. The book similarly explores other defunct Hampton Roads attractions like Buckroe Beach Park, Bay Shore Beach Park, Seaview Beach Park, and Seaside Park.

If you enjoyed this post uncovering Ocean View Park, you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of that book! It’s a great read that recaptures the park for anyone nostalgic of bygone times or anyone curious of what they missed out on (like me).

And if there’s anything I missed in this archive, please let me know below!

Hopefully, I captured some part of the park’s spirit in this tribute. Firsthand accounts from folk who have been to the park is always infinitely better in capturing the spirit of it than my recounting historical archives. So if you have any stories to share, drop those in the comments too!

To Ocean View Park, I raise a toast of Doumar’s limeade. Gone but not forgotten, old friend!

If you have any memories or stories about Ocean View Park, please share in a comment down below!

Collection of resources on Ocean View Park:

Ocean View Park Postcards Album
Landmark Lost: Death To Ocean View Park | WY Daily
Images Of America: Ocean View
Sand And Spectacle | Virginia Living
Ocean View Park Repair Following 1933 Storm
Ocean View Station Museum
Ocean View Amusement Park 1978 | YouTube
WAVY Archive: 1979 Ocean View Roller Coaster
WAVY Archive: 1979 Ocean View Park Demolition
The Death Of Ocean View Park
Rollercoaster 1977 Film

Thanks for reading!

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8 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your article and it reminded me of great memories! Thank you! One ride you didn’t list is the Tilt-A-Whirl. It sat next to the Scrambler ride. Also the Serpentarium!

  2. Ocean View Park has precious memories for me.
    In the spring of 1976 I was.there walking the beach and enjoying the park with my now deceased husband Bob. He was a Navy man on the USS JOHN F KENNEDY. He had a small apartment about 6 blocks from the park. When I went to visit him, we weren’t married yet, we would walk to the park and the beach. He talked me into riding that Rollercoaster! I probably only weighed 95 lbs at that time and he literally held me in. I will never forget those 2 months. Thank you Oceanview Park for giving me such wonderful memories.

  3. I was very young, but I remember going once with my parents & two younger brothers. I was scared to go in the Tunnel of Love, so I covered my eyes with my hands. I went with my best friends family also and her Aunt took me on the Rocket. It was my very first roller coaster ride and I just turned 60, and I’ve never been on any coasters since. So I think that’s pretty cool, it was my 1st & last ride🥰 I also remember riding the ferris wheel. And who could forget the laughing clown🤡 I know a gentleman who paints Oceanview Park. So seeing his work brought back those childhood memories I’ll always cherish ❤
    I learned so much about Ocean View Park from this. So Thank you.

  4. I moved to Norfolk in 1976. I lived right on Ocean View. I got a job working at the amusement park running the softball toss. Those are very fond, loved memories. I was sad the day it was officially destroyed!
    Thank you for publishing this! Too much of our precious history is being lost or destroyed! Again … Thank you!

  5. My mother was born in 1920 one street over from the park on Portview Ave. She often told me of a silent film theater at the park that was heated by a wood stove and the roof leaked when it rained. She was a small child when she went with her mother. I noticed silent film theater was not listed in your items in the park. As for me, I was in the Easter parade where we showed off our new dresses. I cherish my memories of Ocean View Park, including watching fireworks from the top of the Colonial Store every Saturday night in the summer. The ferris wheel was my favorite and the tunnel of love/fun.