Two of the four Busch Gardens properties live on to this day. The first, in Tampa, started out in 1959 as a free, fun thing to do while touring the brewery; it was intended to promote the brand. But it became so popular the company decided it was worth more as a gated park, and so the park expanded, the brewery went away. The opposite happened in Los Angeles and Houston, which didn’t survive as gated, ticketed parks. As in Florida, the LA property started out as merely a promotional gardens spot next to the brewery; they tried converting it to a ticketed theme park, but that didn’t work so well due to lack of space for expansion, limited things to do, lots of local competition, and the fact that expanding the adjacent brewery was far more profitable for the company. Houston was designed as a small theme park; opening alongside the brewery in 1971 at a cost of $11 million, it didn’t attract predicted attendance and lost money from day one. It would only survive two seasons.
Virginia, the last of the properties to be developed, was designed from the get-go as a gated theme park. There was a brewery, with a tour, but the “gardens” wasn’t intended merely to support the tour. This was a major attraction and distinctly different from their previous experiences. A combination of factors led it to become tremendously successful, and to this day ranks as one of the most beautiful regional parks in the country.
While researching the park history book, I came across a few vintage ads and an old ticket from the Tampa park along with preview and opening ceremony brochures, property layout maps, and opening season park map from Williamsburg. Enjoy!