Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pirate's World in Dania Beach: rides, big-name concerts and ... troubles

Pirate's World entrance 1967
Florida State Archives/Florida Memory,
Dept. of Commerce Collection

By Jane Feehan 

Pirate’s World opened to great fanfare April 8, 1967 in Dania Beach, Florida. Recreation Corporation of America had big plans for the “Disneyland-like” park located on 87 acres between A1A and U.S. 1 off Sheridan Street.

RCA built about 15 park rides and installed the vintage (1897) wooden Steeple Chase from Coney Island and the Crow’s Nest Tower from the New York World’s Fair. Kids looked forward to the Banyan Tree Slide and the swaying suspension bridge with an aerial view of the park. Family fun and all the rides came with the price of one ticket: $3.50 for adults and $2.50 for children under 12.

High school and college students comprised most of the park’s workforce; there were long lines at the employment office in its early days. Young people worked as pirates, ushers, guides at a shooting gallery and servers at the alcohol-free tavern. No doubt C.T. Robertson, president of RCA, and architect/designer Bob Mimick knew how to promote the park. With high school bands, dancing girls, a yearly Miss Pirate’s World and a Rock Music World Championship, there was no place to go but up for the popular spot. One year, children arriving on a Freedom Flight from Cuba were provided a day of fun, courtesy of a radio station; all this was the stuff of good public relations.
Crow's Nest Florida State
Archives/Florida Memory 

Named for the “devil-may-care days” when pirates like Gaspar, Jean Lafitte and Black Caesar cruised in and out of Florida’s harbors and coves, Pirate’s World proved to be more than family fun by the time it closed its doors in 1973. 

Trouble probably started with the rock concerts. Rockers Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and David Bowie were among those who performed there. Concert goers numbered in the thousands. In 1971, hundreds of kids crashed the Grand Funk Railroad concert without paying. Cops were called. The city of Dania Beach asked (demanded?) money for crowd control, $5 - $25 per hour per officer. Reportedly, the chief was to get the higher amount … until Hollywood’s Sun-Tatler got wind of the arrangement and published a story. The demand for crowd control fees was quickly dropped.

Drugs commanded other headlines. As many as 35 park attendees one weekend were arrested for drug sales and use. Another weekend, 11 drug arrests. It became a regular occurance. Dania Beach wanted a head tax of five cents per ticket for crowd control and drug patrol. Robertson and his attorney claimed it was illegal (the city got a similar but less fee/tax from Dania Jai Alai).

Pirate’s World was grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons. Sheriff Ed Stack promised to investigate and declare the park a public nuisance. State Attorney Ken Jenne promised the same. In 1973, the auditorium that hosted as many as 9,000 teenagers during its concert series was shut down because of unsafe construction. The building’s steel roof ribbing was spaced too far apart; its ceiling was a patchwork of burlap and plastic. Pirate’s World lost its license. The auditorium was closed.

Stack, Jenne and the city of Dania Beach were ecstatic. There were additional legal maneuvers, but the park’s end was clear.

Log Flume ride Florida State Archives/
Florida Memory

The last day of Pirate’s World operations was Dec. 2, 1973. Offers from developers came in for the land and promises were made but not kept for several years to demolish the landmark. In late 1975, kids were seen jumping off the remaining condemned buildings. Today, it features residential and retail buildings.

Some blame the opening of Disney World in 1971 for the demise of Pirate’s World. Others would say troubles began with the concerts and drugs … and bad headlines. It lost family appeal.


Miami News, Feb 1, 1967
Miami Herald, April 7, 1967
Miami Herald, April 10, 1967
Miami Herald, May 4, 1967
Miami Herald, May 21, 1967
Fort Lauderdale News, Sept. 5, 1969
Fort Lauderdale News, July 31, 1971
Fort Lauderdale News, July 26, 1972
Miami Herald, June 3, 1973
Fort Lauderdale News, June 9, 1973
Fort Lauderdale News, Dec. 20, 1974
Fort Lauderdale News
, Sept. 4, 1975


Florida attractions, Pirate's World, Dania Beach, Concerts

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