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Monday, April 22, 2024

Disney Company Believe It Or Not! - Forgotten Theme Parks

While Disney’s theme parks are the gold standard for themed entertainment, there are, obviously, other companies that have owned and operated theme parks. In a bizarre coincidence, two companies that were eventually purchased by The Walt Disney Company owned theme parks in California that had the word ‘Marine’ in their name.

After Disneyland’s initial success, various companies sought to enter the theme park industry. As an original investor in Disneyland, ABC was initially uninterested in owning part of a theme park. It just wanted a television show from Walt Disney. It only invested in the park when Walt Disney insisted that they wouldn’t get a show unless they became a partner in Disneyland. Even though the park was successful, ABC was desperate to cash out. Ten years later, however, it saw what a mistake it made as Disneyland became fully established and its investment would have been worth much more. This inspired the network to try out its own theme park. Not willing to invest the sort of capital that a ride based theme park would require, ABC decided that an animal theme park centered around the ocean would suffice. Thus ABC’s Marine World was born.

Located just south of San Francisco next to the San Francisco Bay, the park opened in 1968 and featured animal acts that claimed to teach its guests about conservation and preservation of the animals on display. While initially successful, the park fell victim to the one thing that most every theme park operator finds out- that guests require new attractions to keep coming out to the park. ABC had hoped that it could ride the park’s original success for at least a few years before it needed to invest in new attractions. It quickly lost interest in the park and sold it off to another area theme park- Africa U.S.A.- and left the theme park industry for good. It would only get involved with theme parks again after The Walt Disney Company acquired the network in 1995. Marine World Africa USA would eventually move to nearby Vallejo, CA and go through a succession of different owners until it became part of the Six Flags chain and renamed Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. It remains open today.

Marineland actually opened a year before Disneyland did- in 1954- but it would quickly become one of the many Southern California attractions that would take advantage of the millions of tourists attracted by Disneyland to carve out a place for itself. Coincidentally designed by the architect who worked on the Disneyland Hotel, the park saw ten years of increasing attendance in its Rancho Palos Verde location. After San Diego’s Sea World opened, however, it found a more challenging business environment. By the mid-1970’s, it eagerly accepted an offer from Twentieth Century Fox who would hand over design and event responsibilities to movie producer Irwin Allen, who was the “master of disaster” in the 1970’s.

Irwin Allen was responsible for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea franchise which was the primary reason for the bizarre decision to put him in charge of a theme park. However he had also become a mega producer when Twentieth Century Fox handed the park’s reins over to him. The gigantic success of “The Poseidon Adventure” had given him an aura of infallibility and by the mid-1970’s, he was seen as someone who could help the faltering theme park stay afloat. Unfortunately, this was also around the same time that the disaster film bubble began to burst.

Allen’s inexperience with theme parks doomed the experiment. He overpromised and under delivered during the 1974 Christmas season, which led to an embarrassing class action lawsuit against the park. Twentieth Century Fox ended up unloading the park to Hanna Barbera. The park would eventually get sold to the owners of Sea World who originally claimed that they planned to keep both locations open. In the end, they reneged on that promise and closed the park in a manner that prevented anyone else from reopening it as an oceanarium. It was a distant memory by 2020 when Twentieth Century became a part of The Walt Disney Company.