Dinosaurs were once the centerpiece of a little-known tourist attraction in Port Orange, Florida called Bongoland. In 1948, Dr. Perry Sperber leased a plot of land covered in ancient oak trees that contained the ruins of an abandoned sugar mill. Trying to capitalize on Florida’s growing tourism industry, Dr. Sperber operated a theme park on the property complete with a miniature train that took visitors around the park, a replica of a Seminole village, and representations of “prehistoric monsters” that were handmade by one man. Bongoland was an idea way ahead of its time and failed to generate much interest, closing for good in 1952.
- Bongoland was named after a large baboon (“Bongo”) who lived on the property. Brochures used to advertise the theme park featured sketches of a cartoon monkey swinging on vines and playing with a banana.
- The park’s creator, Dr. Perry Sperber, was a Daytona Beach dermatologist and allergist who was widely viewed as a “quack” because of his radical therapies.
- Sculptor M.D. “Manny Lawrence” was commissioned to recreate “strange prehistoric monsters” which once roamed the land. He made them out of concrete and chicken wire.
- Only five dinosaurs survive including a Triceratops, a Stegosaurus, a T-Rex, a Dimetrodon, and a Giant Ground Sloth. Paint schemes wore off years ago and the old giants are showing their age. In recent years, volunteers with the local botanical society have erected fences around the more vulnerable dinosaurs to help preserve their historic significance.
- After Bongoland shuttered, the property sat abandoned for several years. Today, the site is beautifully maintained with lovely gardens, the remains of the Dunlawton Sugar Mill and the “prehistoric monsters.”