- Africa U.S.A. Park
Africa USA was an
Africanwildlife tourist attraction that was open from 1953 until 1961. The park was located in Boca Raton, Floridaon convert|300|acre|km2 of land near U.S. 1. Africa USA was truly a theme parkbefore its time, with animals allowed to roam free. Even though Disney's Animal Kingdomin Walt Disney World was hailed as a new concept, the idea had existed some 45 years prior in South Florida. Walt Disneywas a frequent visitor to Africa USA and considered purchasing it. In fact, Africa USA was chosen over Disneylandto grace the cover of the August 1, 1960 issue of LIFE Magazine.
Africa USA was built by John P. Pedersen. Pedersen always dreamed of building a wild animal park in
Florida, together with his wife Lillian and children Jack and Shirley.
In the 1950s, Pedersen made his dream reality. As Jack and mother Lillian were driving in Boca Raton, Florida they came across some grasslands dotted with
pine trees and sabal palmettothat looked like an African savannah. Pedersen looked at the land and the tiny town of Boca Raton and commented "This is the deadest town I have ever seen. I am going to wake up this town."Pedersen purchased the convert|300|acre|km2 in 1950 from the City of Boca Raton and Palm Beach CountyCommission.
afari in Africa
Jack Pedersen flew to
British East Africato begin the process of animal collection. Working with Dr. Cecil Cade and his son Richard, Jack spent seven months in Africacollecting rare Grevy's zebra, ostrich, cranes, wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle. Special permission was granted to capture the Grevy's zebraas they are almost extinct in the wild. Jack endured many illnesses while in Africaincluding malariaand tick fever. The animals were loaded onto the African Planet steam ship as a modern day " Noah's Ark." The ship left the port of Mombassaand sailed nine weeks across the Atlanticto Port Everglades, Florida.
George Smatherswas instrumental in getting permission for the animals to arrive at Port Everglades. It was the largest shipment of animals ever to leave Africaaboard one ship. The crates that held the ostrichhad to be constantly rebuilt to allow for the fast-growing creatures. The unloading of the animals was quite a media event and the animals were transported to their new home in Boca Raton.
On March 10, 1953 Africa USA opened its doors to the public. The admission to the gardens areas was free, and the Jungle Train Tour was 95 cents. Many major newspapers did full-page write-ups because of the uniqueness of the park - a
zoowith no cages where the visitors could safely interact with the animals. Many animals were added by purchasing animals from other zoos such as camels, elephants and giraffe. The herds began to grow as the animals adapted to the South Floridaclimate.
Many animals were very popular at Africa USA. The
cheetahs Mojah and Mbili, the giraffes Moneybags and Champ, but above all Princess Margaret. Margaret was a baby chimpanzeeadopted by the Pedersen family and raised in their home like a child. Margaret was most famous for kissing people. Pedersen trained her to do this by first having her kiss picture in magazines. She appeared many times on the Jack Paarshow. She learned her cue - "Kiss the pretty lady" and Margaret would kiss the women first. During the day, Margaret had her own "house" in the Africa USA administration building. Another famous celebrity who got her start at Africa USA was the pinup queen Bettie Page. Her most famous photo shoot with the cheetahs Mojah and Mbili is idolized even today.
As the 1950s continued, Africa USA became more and more popular as a tourist attraction with 300,000 visitors a year. John Pedersen had succeeded in putting Boca Raton on the map. Housing developments such as Boca Isles began to spring up around the Africa USA property. Many residents complained about the noise and traffic to which Africa USA contributed. Africa USA was sold and closed its doors on September 4, 1961. The animals were auctioned to zoos around the country. Pedersen was 65 years old at the time and tired of fighting city hall. The Africa USA era had come to an end. The Pedersens retired to
Lake Worth. Lillian Pedersen died in 1984 but John Pedersen reached the age of 98.
The property that was Africa USA is now the Camino Gardens development. Much of the lagoon is intact with the
geyserbase still visible. A plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Africa USA opening is displayed at the lagoonin the Camino Gardens development.
*Africa U.S.A., California (California park not affiliated with the original Africa U.S.A.)
* [http://www.africa-usa.com Africa USA Website]
* [http://www.bocahistory.org Boca Raton Historical Society]
* [http://www.ci.boca-raton.fl.us/econ/history.cfm City of Boca Raton History]
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