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August 25, 2008

Marineland of the Pacific Sky Tower Article: Wrecking Ball Punctuates End of Marineland Era

Marineland of the Pacific Sky Tower Article
Wrecking Ball Punctuates End of Marineland Era
Feb 17, 1988

For more than 30 years, the Marineland sign marked the main entrance to the aquatic park along the Rancho Palos Verdes coast.

Now, there is a new sign-that of the Cleveland Wrecking Co.-and a glance toward the sea tells why.

With a wrecking ball and pile drivers, a demolition crew on Tuesday began knocking down the main stadium-like aquarium where the killer whales Corky and Orky once cavorted before thousands of cheering fans.

Under a six-month, $1-million contract, Cleveland is clearing the land to make way for a "world-class" resort hotel and conference center planned by Arizona developer James G. Monaghan. He bought the 108-acre Marineland site last May for an undisclosed price from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., the publishing company that also owns the Sea World parks.

Longtime Employee

"It's like losing a part of the family," said 71-year-old Gil Lewis as he watched the heavy wrecking ball smash into steel-reinforced concrete.

Lewis was Marineland's electrical supervisor for 25 years until he retired in 1984. He said he and his wife, Lois, drove down from their Torrance home to "say goodby."

Just over a year ago, Marineland was abruptly closed by Harcourt two months after it bought the park for $23.4 million. The company already had moved Corky and Orky to Sea World in San Diego and the closure prompted an outcry that a local landmark and a place for children to learn about sea life was being destroyed.

Harcourt said Marineland, which opened in August, 1954, as one of the country's first oceanariums, was losing too much money and would cost more than $25 million to improve.

It will take a 12- to 15-man crew two to three months to demolish the main aquarium, said Donald F. Fenning, vice president of Cleveland Wrecking. He said the hardest part will be breaking up the pads and foundations below the two large tanks, where the concrete is 4 feet thick.

Further Demolition

Demolition of the five other tanks, some smaller pools and the other grandstands will be done after the main building is down. One stadium at a lower level will be retained for possible use in the new development, but it could be demolished later.

Marineland's distinctive 360-foot observation tower will be taken down in segments and saved, Corcoran said, adding that no decision has been made about what to do with it.

Snack bars, souvenir shops and other accessory buildings already have been demolished. Trees on roadways and paths near the aquarium will remain in place and become a part of the Monaghan development, said John E. Corcoran, a former Marineland general manager and Monaghan spokesman. Large coral and palm trees already have been boxed and are being stored for use in the new project, he said.

Last July, Monaghan disclosed preliminary plans for a luxury resort consisting of a conference center, a 500-room hotel, a sports club with golf course and tennis center or both, and entertainment. Rancho Palos Verdes officials predicted that the development will generate at least $1.5 million a year in tax revenues. Detailed plans will be presented to the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council on March 15.

But on Tuesday morning, Marineland was a ghost park, its tanks dry and discolored, and "Danger-Keep Out" signs crudely spray-painted in red on cream-colored walls. A cold wind blew from the sea and the air was filled with the sounds of metal cracking through concrete, a tractor straining as it pulled debris away and the thud of the wrecking ball as it shattered masonry walls.

Former Food Manager

Joe Casey, a former food manager at the park, stood on a big expanse of empty concrete, remembering what it used to be like. "This used to be a food service area," he said. "There was an ice cream shop in front."

On a hot summer day, he recalled, 7,000 people would walk through the area.

Casey, a San Pedro resident who now works at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, said he has no hard feelings about the end of Marineland but he admits that when Harcourt closed it, "I was sad and angry about the abruptness. They came in one day and said it was over."

Lewis, the former electrical supervisor, also said he thought the closure was badly handled. "It hurt a lot of people," he said.

Lewis, who said he personally supervised installation of the observation tower in 1965, said the Monaghan project probably will be a "good attraction . . . but not as good as this was."

Modern Day Ruins is still looking for a ground photos of the abandoned Sky Tower!  Email us if you come across any.

1 comment:

  1. Funny you mention wanting photos of the Sky Tower. When I was 15 years old I found a really nice 35mm SLR camera inside the attraction. I turned it in to lost and found.


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