The opinions and viewpoints in this feature are solely those of this website's owner,
and not necessarily those of any other involved in the Save Fairyland campaign, unless otherwise indicated.
is a local effort initiated by
Tampa Natives Show host
you're not familiar with Lowry Park and Fairyland, in order to
understand "Why all the fuss" you are urged to first
By the mid 1980s the zoo was in dire condition. Thousands of people filed past the small cages, often too close for the animals’ safety. News clips from over the decades tell of razor blades being tossed into dilapidated cages, and arrows shot into the compounds. Sea lions collapsed from copper poisoning after eating pennies that had been tossed into their tank. A tiger died after someone gave it amphetamines and barbiturates. After several years of fundraising and the help and support of Mayor Bob Martinez and the city of Tampa, the zoo went private in 1986 and so the original Lowry Park Zoo with Fairyland closed with a ceremony on Monday, September 7, 1987 for its $20 million reconstruction.
The rejuvenated first phase of the revamped zoo opened on March 5, 1988 with a Free-Flight Aviary, Asian Domain, Primate World and a Children's Village/Petting Zoo. The old Fairyland was spruced up, along with the original rainbow bridge entrance (without the large pool), returning as the Fairyland walk at the "Fun Forest" entrance, with many of the original storybook character statues having been repaired and repainted.
More than 614,000 people visited the Zoo during its first 12 months.
Fast Forward to the 2010s
Not much thought was given to what happened to the Fairyland storybook figures until recent years. At the Tampa Natives Facebook page, Tampans who had moved away many years earlier would sometimes post asking if Fairyland was still around, some asked "what happened to it?" Some commented they hoped it would be rebuilt. The topic never failed to inspire many comments from fans who remembered the pre-1980s Fairyland.
Tampa Natives Show host and Tampa Natives Facebook page admin Mario Nuñez had fond memories of Lowry Park and Fairyland, having spent his childhood growing up in the 1960s. He found out about the location of the storybook character figures quite serendipitously in January of 2012.
I actually found out about the location of the figures from the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department while researching for my great grandmother's final resting place in Colon-Marti cemetery. While at the CTPRD office, it was a stroke of good fortune that I saw a large poster-size photograph of Rapunzel's Castle at Fairyland hanging on the wall of Katherine Walker-Hebert's office. I expressed to Katherine, the department's South Team Supervisor II, how much Fairyland meant to generations of Tampa native youth.
She closed the door to the office and
whispered, "The city still has them."
The original press photo this poster was made from
2016-July 27 -
Tampa Natives (Mario) shared Fox 13's
Facebook page with comment:
"Watch FOX 13 News tonight at 10pm to catch Lloyd Sowers' feature on the Fairyland character statues at the City of Tampa's storage lot."
Fox 13 News - Mark Wilson, Kelly Ring, Lloyd Sowers, Mario Nuñez, Robin Nigh - City Art Mgr.
Screen shots from the video
If you were a kid in Tampa
30 or 40 years ago, you remember Fairyland. It was full of life-sized
storybook characters. For many kids, it was the main attraction at Lowry
"We had Fairyland and it
was available to us and free," says Tampa native Mario Nunez. "It was a
magical place for us."
But, time passed and Fairyland lost its luster. The characters were taken down years ago, but now they've reappeared. They're outside a city garage near MacDill AFB. They were squirreled away by city workers years ago.
"They couldn't let them go. They were
too special," says Robin Nigh, the city's art manager.
"We've got Peter Pan**, The
Three Little Pigs, Little Miss Muffet. And, we've got the tuffet
somewhere," she laughed. Nigh is searching for someone who might
restore and display the figures. "I'd like to see these figures
refurbished back to their original state and maybe left somewhere in
the city limits."
Wherever they go, their
surprising return will remind us of a simpler time when kids in Tampa
found magic in Fairyland.
(From Fox 13 news)
2016-Sep. 10 Tampa Natives (Dan) created a Lowry Park/Fairyland album at Tampa Natives Facebook page to show all Fairyland/Lowry Park photos in one place. (As of Feb. 8, 2017, this album has 1,418 shares, 132 comments and 579 reactions.)
2016-Sep. 19 The Tampa Natives Show aired "Remembering Lowry Park" on Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network
2016-Sep. 27 Mario told TampaPix: "I had a couple of conversations with the mayor's Chief of Staff in mid September that led me to believe he was going to, in his words, 'bring this in for a landing' by the following week. When I spoke with him next, the mayor came down with the hammer for good. Meaning, he told his Chief of Staff that the auction was going through and that was final. During this time I spoke with Kevin Frye and at first when he heard our desire to restore the figures, he too thought it was a great idea. Both city employees were neutered in their ability to influence the outcome."
2016-Sep. 28 Tampa Natives fan Kimi Lau-Costanzo sent Tampa Natives a private message including the screen shot below of a response her friend Penny got around 2 to 3 weeks earlier from the city's website contact page.
2016-Nov. 3 - Mario made his first presentation to Tampa City Council. Yolie Capin asked Mario a couple of questions and seemed interested in learning more. She said she didn't know anything about the situation. Mario met with her, Guido Maniscalco and Frank Reddick.
Paul Guzzo is writing about Fairyland and he needs to hear from those who remember the Lowry Park attraction. Please send him a message here on Facebook.
2016, Nov. 9 - Paul Guzzo, Paul Guzzo, reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, had also been made aware of Mario's discovery. He began to research Fairyland and gather facts and photos for a story in the newspaper.
2016-Nov. 10 - Mario R. Núñez commented on Paul's post, tagging City Council member Yolie Capin - "Please read these comments about Fairyland."
|2016-Nov. 20 - Fairyland figures revisited with Paul Guzzo of the Tampa Bay Times - Photos by Sally Nuñez
former Fairyland in Tampa may return to public
TAMPA — These fairy tale princesses have seen better days. Stored behind a city warehouse near MacDill Air Force Base, Snow White's face is melting. Sleeping Beauty's has caved in. These life-sized figures made of fiberglass and concrete now seem more suitable for a horror movie than a tourist attraction. But Mario Nunez excitedly dances from one to the next, envisioning the statues as they looked when he was a kid, not as they do decades after being discarded. "They're beautiful. Imagine her eyes a pristine blue," Nunez, 58, said of Snow White. "They just jumped out at you."
The statues were once part of Fairyland, a 15-acre North Tampa park with a winding walking path that took visitors on a journey through storybooks. The characters that children met at the park, which shared space with Lowry Park Zoo, included Peter Pan, Three Men in a Tub and Peter Rabbit. Fairyland was razed in the late 1980s** and the figures have since sat in or outside a warehouse, crumbling from age and the elements.
Now the city plans on auctioning them off in mid January. Nunez is not happy about it. He thinks the characters should be refurbished and placed somewhere to once again be enjoyed by children. There is no guarantee the winning bidder will share his vision. So he wants the city to give the statues to him to ensure a happy ever-after. "This is part of our history," he said. "It should not be for sale." He wants the statues in a public park or perhaps in different locations throughout the city. "It could be a scavenger hunt," said Nunez, 58. "Find the characters."
This is not his only effort to salvage a piece of the city's history. Nunez also is on the hunt for the large, hand-painted illustration of Al Lopez that once adorned the West Tampa stadium named in honor of the baseball Hall of Famer. When the stadium was torn down in 1989, the sign had already been removed. Nunez has reached out to viewers of The Tampa Natives Show, which he hosts on a local cable network, to help find the illustration. He also asked them to help him acquire the Fairyland figures.
His team includes Brenda Piniella Rouse, a resource development director for the Rotary's Camp Florida, which helps people with special needs. She is helping Nunez start and then manage a non-profit to finance the restoration and storage of the characters until a permanent home can be found. "Why would they be auctioned?" Piniella Rouse said. "What are they worth? How much will the city get? They are like that ratty teddy bear that is missing an eye and has a torn paw that no one wants unless it is their own. The only value they have is sentimental. So give them the right home.
Also helping is Linda Hope, 73, a local historian and owner of the weekly Penny Saver newspaper. She will seek needed funds and local artists willing to help. "I used to take my kids to Fairyland," she said. "They had a rainbow bridge you walked over to get to a playground. Kids felt like they were walking into another world."
City Council member Yvonne Capin wants to
give the group a chance. Cancel the auction, she says, and hand over the
fairy tale characters. "Why not?" she asks. "I've seen the city give
away a lot more." As a child, Capin used to go to Fairyland Park. Years
later, as a mother, she took her daughter there. "A lot of people may
think it was cheesy," Capin said. "To us, it was magical."
Fairyland was built in the 1950s as a free complement to Lowry Park Zoo.
"This was our Disney World," Nunez said. "This was our place. I thought the characters were gone," Nunez said. When he looks now at the storybook characters tossed haphazardly behind the warehouse, he can't help but chuckle. Only two of the homes built by the Three Little Pigs have survived the elements. Ironically, it's the brick one that is long gone. And in the far corner lies Humpty Dumpty, flat on his back. "He fell off that wall," said Nunez said. "But we're going to put him back together again."
Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3394.
2016-Nov. 17 - Tampa Natives (Mario) posted a link to Paul Guzzo's article, writing, "Please Read, Comment & SHARE! Let's get 1000 SHARES.... Please help!"
Many other fans of Tampa Natives used various means to contact the city to voice their concerns. Some used the city's website, through its "Contact Us" page.