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Busch Gardens, the Beginnings …

March 26, 2010

Today marks the start of our 35th season, so I thought I’d take a moment to tell you about our history.

The concept of Busch Gardens was brought to life in 1906 in Pasadena, California, when Aldophus Busch developed 30-acres of landscaped pathways with rare birds and fairy tale sculptures for his wife, Lilly, and the public. The park remained open to the public for 32 years and even had a stop along the Pacific Electric Railway. It was a place for entertaining, hosting events, and even movie scenes. Bet you didn’t know that “Gone with the Wind” was filmed at the Pasadena Busch Gardens.

In 1959, Anheuser-Busch opened a “beer garden” in Tampa Bay, Florida which offered free beer samples and a bird show. It proved to be popular among the guests who visited. In 1969, Busch Gardens expanded and opened the Serengeti Plains, an area that housed African animals. From there, rides, shows, shops and restaurants were added, establishing Busch Gardens as a theme park.

In 1966, a third attempt at a park was made in Van Nuys, California. This park also offered free beer samples, but added free boat and monorail rides. A bird sanctuary was added in the early 1970’s, but this park did not survive. Its doors closed in the mid-70’s. Then in 1971, a fourth park was opened in Houston, Texas. This park had an Asian Theme to it with animals from the Arctic. The Houston park was unsuccessful in its attempts to attracting visitors and closed its doors in 1973.

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg opened its doors for the first time in May 1975. It was Anheuser-Busch’s fifth attempt at a park. It opened as Busch Gardens “The Old Country,” themed after old Europe and has been open to the public seasonally since. When it first opened, Busch Gardens had a few rides, shows, and small restaurants. Its original “countries” included Banbury Cross (England), Heatherdowns (Scotland), Hastings (England), Aquitaine (France), New France and Germany. Rides that were original to the park (and are still in operation today) include the Skyride, the Rhine River Cruise, the Railroad, the Flume, the Katapult (in its 3rd location at the park, but still an original) and the Carousel. In 1976, the Festhaus and Oktoberfest (Germany) section opened to the public. In 1980, the Italy area opened and in 1987 Festa Italia (Italy) opened. Busch Gardens continues to grow to date.

I hope you enjoyed learning about where we started. I look forward to sharing our evolution with you as the season progresses.

Park Operations Manager at Busch Gardens

16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2010 1:51 pm

    It’s nice to see that you all are going back into your park history. Over at that is one of the main discussions on the forums. Anyway, I was wondering if you could give some information on Le Scoot. I’ve heard that Busch Gardens wasn’t its original home. Is this true? If so, can you tell us where it was located before?


  2. Waverly Phelps III permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:52 pm

    would have been nice to see some pictures form the archives if you guys had any.
    I remember the catapult being in what is now known as castle O’Sullivan/meet and eat area. I also remember the fun house that was next to it.. good times there.

    I also remember costumed characters back in the day.. like a Fox dressed as robin hood.. I have a pic of that somewhere.. maybe dig it out and send it in to BG.. lol

    • Jeanette permalink
      July 4, 2010 11:53 am

      I totally remember all of those things. The catapult was located inside the building which is now the “dine with Elmo”. The funhouse was called something like the “Turvey Manor”. What I’m trying to remember is the name of the little red roller coaster that was next to the swings. It has little cars that only held like four people. The other fun coaster was the glissade in Germany. Those were definately the good ol’ days – when my season pass was only $25!!!

      • August 11, 2010 11:50 pm

        Hi Jeannette! The roller coaster you miss was called THE WILDCAT which was the original attraction in the spot later occupied by the Big Bad Wolf. Memories!

  3. Barbara permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:59 pm

    I remember when the park first opened, and there were free beer samples there too. You got to go on a brewery tour which ended at the brewery snack house, where you got up to 2 cups of complimentary beer, with appropriate ID of course! There were also animals, and a monorail.
    I wish the brewery tour would come back!

    • Newsie permalink
      March 26, 2010 2:51 pm

      ^Not a chance with the sale from Anheuser-Busch to Blackstone.

      • Chris permalink
        March 26, 2010 4:21 pm

        I know, that is sad. I have heard of a monorail there and every time I go by where they had it from what I have seen on park maps from years ago I try to imagine what it would look like if it was still there. But a monorail, even if it is just around the park like the train would be cool too. They (Busch Gardens) should do that.

  4. Chris permalink
    March 26, 2010 4:19 pm

    Man, Busch Gardens has come so far. And it all started out originally as a garden and then they just added a few things over the years and it became a theme park chain. This is wonderful, it’s so nice to see where Busch Gardens originally came from. I think it would be cool if you guys (Busch Gardens) posted older pictures of the park from previous years that it would be an even cooler thing because then people like me could see how much the park has changed. That would be cool!

  5. JIM permalink
    March 26, 2010 5:48 pm

    And Let Us not Forget Threadneedle Fair And the Monorail to The Brewery ! Free Cold Beer And Air Conditioning Was GREAT In 90 deg. Weather

  6. Karyn permalink
    March 26, 2010 7:14 pm

    I learned some things about the history of Busch Gardens here! My family has been going to the “Old Country” every year since it opened. So many of my best memories are there. I still get seasons passes every year, my kids and grandkids LOVE Busch Gardens! I remember the original countries and rides. I love the new ones too! I miss the monorail and getting free beer samples but I still enjoy the park.

  7. March 26, 2010 7:43 pm

    Hey there, I know I have mentioned this before to Merchandising and this Blog gives me hope; but I would LOVE to see a DVD or Book made to be sold in the park with images, historical information, and even conceptual art, of the parks beginnings all the way to today.

    The park has changed so much over the years and so many people have such fond memories of the past that many folks would love to have a documentary DVD or a tabletop book of photos and information.

    I have discovered that a great number of people miss some of the old charm the park had; the mascots, the attention to accurate details of each country, the street performers, simple areas such as Threadneedle Fair and Eagle’s Nest that were relaxing and did not require standing in line, more cultural items related to each country sold in shops, and even the Monorail and a simple tour of the Brewery.

    Perhaps the park would consider making a building that houses a tour of the past. Old coaster signs and memorabilia and photos with a time line. In this building would be a mini gift shop with nostalgic souvenirs and replicas. I think Busch Gardens would be surprised at how well it would do. The best location for such a concept would obviously be in the front of the park, perhaps where the old Budweiser store was.

    Thanks for the post, and keep on writing more information about the rides and history!

  8. March 26, 2010 8:44 pm

    Busch Gardens is one of the finest resources in this area!!!!!

  9. Belle East permalink
    March 27, 2010 9:50 am

    I have been visiting Busch Gardens ever since it opened. I have a picture of my daughter in the petting zoo area when she was nine years old. She’s now 44!
    I buy passes for my grandkid’s every year, now.
    I really miss the pet area. One year they had two bear cubs that were so much fun to watch.
    The monorail was fun, and the free beer at the end was great, too!

  10. Newsie permalink
    March 28, 2010 5:42 pm

    As Jim Atchison said, Busch Entertainment was a hospitality house that got out of hand.

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