Did you know the Virginia Beach Oceanfront used to be home to an amusement park that was not named Atlantic Fun Park?
That’s okay. Despite only closing in the 80s, like Buckroe Beach Park, there’s scarcely a trace of Seaside. Even on the Internet!
But since amusement parks are my specialty and Virginia Beach is my home base, I’m going to compile everything that could be found on the elusive Seaside Park. Lest it be lost to history, entirely.
So, what was Seaside Park?
It was an Oceanfront amusement park built in 1912 that spanned three blocks in Virginia Beach before its famed ballroom, casino, ornate carousel, roller coaster, and amusements vanished from the coast without a trace of it left today.
What happened to the forgotten amusement park?
Where was the Seaside Park in Virginia Beach?
The park was located on the Oceanfront’s 31st, 32nd, and 33rd street blocks. It was 600 feet of space nicely nestled between the beach shore and Atlantic Avenue.
Why was the park built?
Back in 1912, Norfolk Southern Railroad was looking to increase traffic along its lines. In those times, railroad companies commonly funded and built resorts, amusement parks, and casinos to draw in business.
It served the railroads well. In addition to the money they’d make off of those attractions, people would be boarding their trains to travel to them. (In later years, this concept evolved to “trolley parks,” like Idora in Youngstown, Ohio.)
And, Seaside Park was no different. Norfolk Southern was in the market to expand their rail network across the East Coast. Virginia Beach was in the market for a unique attraction to draw in East Coast tourists. So, the two reached an agreement with one another to open The Virginia Beach Casino & Seaside Park.
Did Seaside Park really save Virginia Beach?
The park is most definitely credited for its survival!
Virginia Beach was scarcely passable as a town when Seaside opened its doors, and VB was a swiftly dying one at that.
The bulk of the Beach was farmland. The Oceanfront area is what yielded two hotels and a few cottages. There was no boardwalk and infrastructure was nonexistent. Case and point this:
One of the two hotels, the Princess Anne Hotel, is what carried Virginia Beach on its back, gave it its name. It drew in the wealthy elite of New York frequently and they’re who, essentially, funded the Beach.
From 1890 until 1907, this hotel was the flagship resort and lifeline income provider for Virginia Beach until it went up in flames during the night. Lacking aforementioned infrastructure, people had to form a human chain to the beach and pass buckets of water to fight the fire. The Princess Anne Hotel was ashes by morning, and with that, so was Virginia Beach’s economy.
The second hotel on the beach was not of the scale to keep the rich coming back. So, once the news of the Princess Anne’s demise hit the papers, the wealthy refused to return. They’d even went as far as stating that they “couldn’t obtain satisfactory quarters” in Virginia Beach anymore and they didn’t want a “splendidly equipped cottage” but instead a “first class hotel.”
While the Beach kept meeting stalemates on getting another hotel resort built, they did find a lifeline in Seaside Park.
When the park opened, it drew in far greater numbers than anticipated from local sources and out of state visitors alike. It made Virginia Beach a prominent East Coast destination again, now with more offerings than before. And, it gave the town (and railroad) the financial stability needed to expand and fully establish itself.
Seaside Park opened on June 1st in 1912. It was touted as Seaside Park & Virginia Beach Casino and was referred to as, “The Most Magnificent Seaside Resort South of New York.” Locals initially called it The Casino and billed it as “being equipped with every device of a pleasure giving nature.”
Year one saw hallmark features like the famed Peacock Ballroom, Casino Cafe, and Airdome. The Ballroom boasted the largest dance floor in the East, covering 50,000 square feet. The Casino Cafe served 500 people at a time, offering 75 cent seafood dinners using the fresh catch of the day. Meanwhile, the Airdome presented first time movies.
A key attraction was the park’s ornate carousel that held 50 wooden animals including horses, unicorns, lions, and dragons. Each of which were bedazzled in multicolored jewels that were complimented by the mirrors and lights placed overhead. When the ride was in motion, it became a “gigantic kaleidoscope.”
The following year in 1913 saw the addition of the longest and tallest roller coaster in the South, the Camel Back. A newly added modern bathhouse facility provided bathing suits, one thousand bathrooms (yes really), and lockers for “surf bathing” in the ocean.
In subsequent years, pools, additional rides and dining were added. Amongst the concessions was Doumar’s ice cream, a company who invented the waffle ice cream cone at the 1904 World’s Fair.
Seaside Park bloomed for a solid thirty to forty years, as did the Oceanfront around it. The price and value of land around the bustling attraction sold for 2-3 times what it had been worth before Seaside. Virginia Beach was growing at such a rapid rate, over 100 lots for residences had been sold within a week’s time at one point.
The park, now monikered as simply Seaside, enjoyed the adoration of locals, Virginians, and out of state guests. With the years passing by, it was becoming a multigenerational attraction for families. This point led to it receiving a new carnival atmosphere and theme in the 1940s.
Its midway was dotted with classic amusements like the bumper cars, a fun house, and a tilt-a-whirl. Most quirky of the bunch were the Laughing Sally and the shooting gallery that used .22 rifles with real bullets. (Definitely different times, right?)
As mentioned above, Seaside Park had notable attractions like the Peacock Ballroom, Airdome, Camel Back roller coaster, Casino Cafe, Kaleidoscope Carousel, and bathhouse complex.
The park also included:
- penny arcade
- billiards & bowling
- fun house
- Ferris wheel
- fortune teller
- bumper cars
- bamboo slide
- skee ball
Inevitably, there were other rides and attractions at the park. But finding definitive documentation of them is a struggle. If there are any other attractions you know of that I didn’t list, please let me know and I’ll add them in!
Um… well… there’s nothing. Nothing is left at the site today that would indicate an amusement park used to reside there for 70 years.
And as far as I’m able to find, the whereabouts of any sold attractions and auctioned off games is slim on details.
A newer, simple carousel they had upon closing went to Fort Myers, FL. Its status today is unknown.
The trabant flat ride was sold to (drum roll) Buckroe Beach Park, which closed in 1986 and was demolished in the 1990s. A fate likewise shared by our Oceanfront amusement park.
Seaside essentially dropped off the face of the Earth. It’s pretty strange to see.
Most of the time, there will be leftovers. Piers, plaques, street signs, relocated rides… traces of old parks tangibly–and digitally across resources like the Internet and archives–have always existed for every other park.
Because they existed, there has to be breadcrumbs. Right?
*enter Seaside Park*
Nothing is traceable for Seaside. There’s not even vintage ride tickets on Ebay.
I’m sourcing a lot of this information from library archives, news archives, and a University of Richmond thesis paper from 1996.
I’ve scrounged for details on remnants of Seaside and what became of it after the 80s. But as it seems, nothing’s left. And, that’s it.
What happened to Seaside Park?
The good times of a park in its prime swiftly died in 1956 when a fire wiped out an overwhelming two thirds of the park.
The Peacock Ballroom, Casino & Casino Cafe, bathhouse complex, picnic pavilion, Camel Back, and Kaleidoscope Carousel were the biggest losses for the park. Most of what survived the fire was the concessions and games on the south block.
Despite the losses and the fact that not a trace of it remains today, Seaside Park remained open for another 30 years afterwards.
Even more bizarre, right?
The most iconic and noteworthy parts of the park were destroyed by fire, much like the Princess Anne Hotel. Nothing from those losses were ever rebuilt. The park sold the land the fire cleared out and the companies who bought it swiftly erected hotels.
Now Seaside Park was a little more than the block on 31st street, but they were content with that.
In the park’s final thirty years, it maintained the carnival aesthetic it took on in the 40s, acquired another albeit simpler carousel and Ferris wheel, maintained their arcade and midway games, and rode out the rest of their operations.
All things considered, it still did fairly well for itself. Locals still held fond sentiments towards Seaside and out of town tourists visiting the Oceanfront supplemented attendance. Generations of people enjoyed the park in its 74 year run.
In the early 80s, Seaside Park began auctioning off what assets they had left. And as stated above, there’s no record of what happened to the items/attractions sold off.
Just four years later, 1986 marked the official closure of Seaside Park.
Why was Seaside Park closed?
The park owner felt that the Oceanfront had long outgrown Seaside and that the land the park sat on would be put to better use as hotel development property. So, he sold it.
Presumably, everything left on the site was demolished.
Nothing was preserved. Nothing is left today.
I suppose with the passing of time, that’s the fate of all things in the end.
What became of the park’s site?
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Neptune’s Park throughout my life and had absolutely no idea an amusement park used to be there. There’s no sort of indication there.
If you couldn’t already tell, the whole thing really fascinates me.
I’ve grown up here all my life, heard once about Seaside when I was researching Buckroe Beach, thought Seaside must’ve been somewhere around Shore Drive/First Landing area, and come to find out that it sat on the most well-known Oceanfront real estate just only thirty-ish years ago.
Maybe it’s my age and only having known Neptune’s Park and statue as always being there. I didn’t realize how relatively new it is from what I expected it to be. So, there’s my quarter life home city identity crisis, I guess.
Neptune’s Park, Catch 31 Fish House, a Hilton hotel, Hampton Inn, and Residence Inn occupy the site that was once Seaside Park & Virginia Beach Casino.
Somewhere along the Boardwalk, there is a recently added sign about Seaside Park.
I’m not 100% sure if that sign is on the site the park was or if it’s somewhere else along the 3-mile span. So, I’ll scope it out and then update this post with a definitive location.
Seaside Park is one of the most fascinating traditional parks I know of. I really don’t have any better word than just fascinating.
The park was more than I expected it to be. Before this exploration, I’d thought it was just a minor, small “park” in an era when there were thousands. And this assumption was based on how little there is to be found about it.
A Virginia Beach native, I’ve never heard anyone talk about it and finding material on it is difficult. I thought there wasn’t much about Buckroe online when I was digging, but comparatively there’s heapings.
But from what I could find about dear Seaside: it saved Virginia Beach from an obscurity the park itself later succumbed to…
Hopefully I captured some part of the park’s essence in this record. 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.
But in lieu of, I raise to you the story of Seaside Park.
If you ever visited Seaside Park or have any more information about it, please share in a comment down below!
Here are all the online resources I’ve found covering Seaside Park:
Twixt Ocean and Pines: The Seaside Resort at Virginia Beach, 1880-1930
Gone… But Not Forgotten: Virginia Beach
Seaside Park Casino Historical Marker
July 1938 | A Sunny Seaside Park Welcomes Thousands
July 1982 | A Guide to Virginia Beach
Seaside Park Circa 1920s – Virginia Beach, Virginia
The Atlantic VB | Seaside Park
Wavy Archive: Seaside Amusement Park Land Sold
Thanks for reading!
Since publishing this post, I’ve found a great blast from the past book, Lost Attractions Of Hampton Roads by Nancy E Sheppard, that details Seaside Park and includes vintage photos of it. The book also explores other defunct Hampton Roads attractions like Buckroe Beach Park, Bay Shore Beach Park, Seaview Beach Park, and Ocean View Park.
If you enjoyed this post uncovering Seaside 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).