Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. Humpty Dumpty. Little Red Riding Hood. Once upon a time in Tampa, these storybook characters frolicked near the Hillsborough River at a place called Fairyland. After closing in 1990s – the fabled figurines disappeared, but the memory of times spent at Fairyland lived on in the imaginations of Tampa residents.
Those figures have found a new – if temporary – home at the Tampa Bay History Center.
“Finding Fairyland: Rediscovering Tampa’s Lost Theme Park,” opening Saturday, March 18, will feature many of the original sculptures from Fairyland, on view to the public for the first time in 20 years.
The exhibit is made possible by local restaurateur Richard Gonzmart, who purchased the collection of Fairyland sculptures from the city of Tampa after they were discovered in a city storage facility.
Gonzmart plans to restore the figurines – 11 scenes from classic fairytales in all – and put them on public display, possibly in Waterworks Park near Ulele.
Opened in 1957, Fairyand was attached to Lowry Park Zoo. The free attraction was a favorite for local families, who entered via Rainbow Bridge before encountering a 20-foot-high Old Woman in the Shoe and Mary’s Little Red Schoolhouse along a winding path that included vignettes from 11 different nursery rhymes.
Fairyland was shuttered in the 1990s and Rainbow Bridge was demolished. The figurines were discarded, too, resigned to a city storage yard before being recently discovered. Gonzmart purchased the figurines and plans to restore them to their original condition.
“It’s a throwback to a simpler time in Tampa,” said History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell.
“Finding Fairyland” is on view through May 21.
For more information, visit TampaBayHistoryCenter.org, or call 813-228-0097.