Seaside Park: The Long Lost Virginia Beach Amusement Park

Did you know the Virginia Beach Oceanfront used to be home to an amusement park that was not named Atlantic Fun Park?

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Atlantic Fun Park in Virginia Beach

No?

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?

Well…

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Virginia Beach Oceanfront’s Boardwalk

Origins

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.

Virginia Beach continues to flourish as an East Coast resort city today. Its Oceanfront is as expansive as ever.

The Park

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Seaside Park in Virginia Beach

History

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?)

Rides

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:

  • casino
  • penny arcade
  • billiards & bowling
  • fun house
  • Ferris wheel
  • fortune teller
  • bumper cars
  • tilt-a-whirl
  • bamboo slide
  • skee ball
  • caterpillar
  • whirl-a-way
  • scrambler
  • trabant

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!

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Virginia Beach Oceanfront

Remains

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.

Demise

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Virginia Beach Hotels Built on Seaside Park’s Site

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.

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King Neptune’s Statue on the Boardwalk

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.

Tangent done.

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.

Memory Lane

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!

{Update}

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).

Enjoy!

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36 Comments

  1. I will tell you what I know about Seaside Park. At its height, the park spanned from 30th & Oceanfront to 33rd & Oceanfront. The portion between 30th and 31st was at one time a separate park. Somewhere along the way the two parks were combined into one. The park also included parcels on the land side of Atlantic Avenue, some of which went all the way to Pacific Avenue. The park once had a very large parking lot there.

    The first contraction of the park occurred in the mid 1950’s, a season or so before the fire. The portion between 32nd and 33rd Streets was demolished for redevelopment. The fire which was in the early Fall destroyed the north half of the 3100 block. Although the press claimed the burned half a block would be rebuilt, what happened was that an existing building was torn down, which was replaced by the 50th Jubilee Building. The 50th Jubilee Building was named to honor Virginia Beach’s 50th year of incorporation. This was the flat roofed building which contained the bumper cars, public bathrooms, the restaurant (the Mighty Burger), arcade games, park office, etc. etc. The burned portion was never rebuilt. It laid vacant for some decades except for a private cut thru to the boardwalk that was built for the Ocean House Motel.

    In the 1960’s the park retreated from all parcels on the landside of Atlantic Ave including closing the parking lot. This reduced to the park to one and a half blocks (30th to about 31st 1/2 Street).

    After the Cooper family closed Ocean View Park in Norfolk, Seaside was spruced up, circa 1980. The old Whip was replaced with a Tilt A Whirl. Tall decorative toy soldiers from Ocean View were reinstalled at Seaside. The reptile museum was moved from Ocean View to Seaside, taking the place where Laff in the Dark had been (the ride which featured the laughing fat lady). There was talk of rebuilding Seaside Park. One proposal called for the construction of a multi-level amusement park. In the end nothing happened following the spruce up.

    The park contracted again when the portion between 30th and 31st Streets was demolished (where the Hilton is now located). This only left a half a block or the 50th Jubilee Building standing. The park limped on for one or two more seasons with the bumper cars as the only ride. I can remember wondering, why do they even bother?

    Finally, Seaside closed the 50th Jubilee Building which brought the park to its end. The 50th Jubilee Building, the newest building in the complex and remained standing for some years after it was closed. It probably wasn’t demolished until sometime in the 1990’s. Eventually the Marriott was built in its place.

    Something I never saw but have heard about, was an Oceanfront stage. Entertainment and contests once took place there including an annual beauty pageant. I think the last pageant was held in the mid 1960’s. Has anyone seen a picture of this stage?

  2. I am 93 and the carousel is my fond memory. It was very big and took a long time to go around. The Norfolk afternoon paper put half price rides in each day. We lived on 35 th street and walked down after supper with my girls. We all loved Seaside Park

  3. I was born in 1969. Someone mentioned Funland at Rehoboth! I grew up vacationing in both Virginia Beach and Rehoboth. I LOVED Seaside! The Ferris wheel was a little bit rickety but it was so cool…and the boat ride was great! Each boat had a bell you could ring. The poor ride attendant probably heard those bells in his sleep. Laff in the Dark was an old school “pretzel ride.” Laughing Sal was in front of it and she scared the bejeezus out of 5 year old me.
    I started as a freshman at W&M in the fall of 1987, and hadn’t been to VB for a few years. When we went down to the beach one weekend I beelined for Seaside and it was…just gone.
    When I told my dad he said “well, at least that damn fat lady won’t scare you anymore!”

  4. In the 80’s I was a little girl and my dad took me to wild water rapids and there was this “bumper boats” attraction near the Oceanfront, I can’t find any details or pictures from where that bumper boat attraction was open. In your research did you come across information?

  5. So happy to find this site! I have wonderful memories of Seaside Park in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. My grandmother owned a hotel (The Avamere) on the oceanfront at 26th St, and I’d spend a week there with family every June as soon as school was over. Walking up the boardwalk to the park was an every-evening ritual. First stop would be the Dairy Queen where cones went for a nickle for a small to a quarter for an extra-large (5 cents extra for chocolate-dipped). Next along the way was the Top Hat, a mysterious, smoky establishment with its swinging doors facing the boardwalk and too dark inside to see what all those sailors were up to.

    A novelty and souvenir shop was at the beginning of the oceanside walkway. At the entrance to the shop was always a rack holding a selection of things destined to get me in trouble like cigarette loads, whoopee cushions, itching powder, and soap that would turn your skin black. Farther along was “Laff in the Dark” ride with the obnoxious laughing lady in the window outside. The carousel was also on the oceanfront side, with its Disney scenes on the walls. Inside the building were Ski-Ball, Pick Up Ducks, a cotton candy machine, and an arcade with a life-size electronic cowboy fast-draw game and bear-hunter game. I, too, remember the bumper cars and the Whirl-Away.

    Aside from Seaside Park, there was a small theme park of sorts (out 31st St?) called Frontier City. Somewhere I have a wooden nickel and bumper sticker from there.

    Thanks to everyone for all the memories! Hope that someone will eventually learn what happened to the carousel.

  6. Our family vacationed in Virginia Beach every summer throughout my childhood. We always stayed at the Plantation Motel on 30th and Atlantic Avenue and become close with the Themides family that ran the motel & restaurant. Seaside Amusement Park was directed across the street on the Oceanfront. I have many great memories of walking across the street with my Dad to ride the Ferris wheel, watch the live entertainment and always play skee-ball. Wonderful summer nights spent there!

  7. There was also an amusement park on shore Drive were great neck Road intersex. It was called Seaview. and it was a black only amusement park. I know in the 60s ocean view amusement parks, Seaside amusement park, and Seaview amusement park were owned by a company of Dr. Dudley Cooper’s from Norfolk. I remember going to Seaview as a little kid with my uncle and cousin where he picked up receivables from the day before. Everything back in those days obviously was cash.

  8. From the early 70s to the early 80s my entire extended family would vacation for 2 weeks evey summer at Virginia Beach.We had such a great time going to Seaside in the evenings after a long day at the beach! I have such great memories of my family members and I going and riding all the rides until the parked closed for the night and then we would walk back along the boardwalk 10 to 12 blocks until we got back to our motel. So sad the park is gone it’s something that I would have liked to have shared with future gnerations.

    1. That sounds like a blast! I really like to think that Seaside would’ve rebounded if it was able to hold out a little longer. It would’ve needed investors/loans/money to get through the 80s, but I think it would be doing well again today. Atlantic Fun Park has never been half of what Seaside once was and is a popular Oceanfront attraction, so a coastal themed amusement park right on the boardwalk itself (grand ole Seaside Park) would be booming.

    1. Seaside Park spanned 31st to 33rd street. The fire in 1956 took out the 32nd and 33rd blocks, leaving the 31st street as the only part of Seaside Park open until 1986. I’m not sure when Neptune’s Park officially came to be but it sits on what used to be that last block of Seaside Park on 31st, and the Neptune Statue was added to the site in 2005.

      So you’re remembering correctly! Seaside was still there in 1983. It formally closed in 1986.

  9. To the credit of the owner at that time, Dr Dudley Cooper, Seaside Amusement Park was the first place where black people were allowed on the boardwalk. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On Sundays, busses packed with blacks beach-goers would drive to the Oceanfront and let the people off at Seaside Amusement Park

  10. I went there many times as a child and later as a teenager. In the “ballroom” they would have a teenage night every Friday for dancing. It was packed. Some very fond memories. My favorite tide was the whip. Laughing Sal (the fat lady) I heard was sold yo another park.

  11. I remember as a kid, my family would go to Seaside after the occasional Friday night dinner at Fass Bros on Laskin Rd. My favorite ride was always the bumper cars!

    1. Bumper cars are always a classic! Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Tommy! It’s really cool to see people’s experiences with the park, keeps Seaside alive in a sense.

  12. I’m 58 yo and have spent many, many days & nights hanging at the park playing the games and riding the rides. My family would usually park at the 5th Street Burger Walk-up, which was located between the Ramada Inn to the north and Steel Pier to the south. That’s actually when Virginia Beach was a fun place to go

    In my opinion the lure of VB was lost back in those years with massive over development to line the pockets of the City Council which still continues to this day. I was proud to say I lived in VB back then, but I can’t say the same now. They have nothing to offer tourists to speak of and think this new Surf Park may bail them out like Seaside did many decades before.

    1. Yeah, that’s what makes the whole situation around Seaside interesting is that the park was such an integral part of Virginia Beach, its history and local culture, that losing it to commercialization is sad to see. Traces of Virginia Beach’s roots are scarce to find.

      When I was researching the park, it was so hard to find material on it and parts of VB history. Likewise finding locals who knew about Seaside was difficult until posting this article and it finding the right audience.

      So many, like myself, had no idea it was there, didn’t know about the Civic Center, or other attractions on the Oceanfront that got wiped out. A lot of Virginia Beach history that’s marked online or in library resources touch on its merge with Princess Anne circa the 50s and then jumps to the 90s through present. Everything else unique about VB has been forgotten to the commercialized tourism of today.

  13. Does anyone have a photo of the laughing lady (fake fat) woman who laughed and bounced in a glass booth)? I loved that attraction so much! What a magical place Seaside Park was.

    (This would have been in the early 60’s)

    1. oh gosh, I was terrified of her!

      We used to go to Seaside very Sunday afternoon for the dances. I think of it every time I hear a Beach Boys song. and the mention above of the Steel Pier – I had completely forgotten about it.

      1. The Laughing Lady is like an amusement park rite of passage as a child, get your cotton candy and nightmare fuel all in one fun visit.

        1. I remember the laughing lady. It scared the hell out of me as child., about
          1968 or so
          my parents had no idea how much it freaked me out. I could hear that thing
          laughing as we got closer, and closer…

          think I would like to see a picture, maybe!!

    2. I wish! If I ever find a photo of it, I’ll add it into the post. She was definitely one of the most unique parts of Seaside!

  14. Wow – I was born in Virginia Beach and after we moved visited grandparents there every summer and visited Seaside Park throughout my childhood. I always wondered what happened to it, particularly the merry go round figures! Thanks for the research.

    1. Absolutely! I’m glad I could try and preserve a little bit of it in its history. I wish the carousel could’ve been saved! It’d be a popular attraction at the Oceanfront if they had it.

  15. I remember it well..the closest amusement park I can find that reminds me of it is Funland at Rehoboth beach.. almost the exact same lineup of kiddie rides..

    1. That’s so cool! It’s hard to find folks that went to Seaside even though a great many did. I’ll definitely check out Funland though! It’ll be neat to see a similar park.

      1. I actually went there on several dates when I was in H.S and even college in the late 60’s and early 70’s .
        It was a cool little amusement park!
        We thought nothing of driving from Portsmouth to the beach.

        1. Aw, that’s so sweet! It had to have been a hotspot for dates, being an amusement park on the beach and at the Oceanfront–so much to get into!