Marineland signs were hidden in a sand dune for 80 years, until Tropical Storm Nicole

Rusted and warped, they represent fragments of St. Johns County’s movie and tourism history from some 80 years ago.

Now, the discovery of vintage signs that once pointed the way to Marineland when it was known 84 years ago as Marine Studios has been discovered on a dune near the historic attraction on State Road A1A.

Its discovery is due to the effect of Tropical Storm Nicole on the sands, not the work of an archaeologist.

Tropical Storm Nicole caused an estimated $34 million in damage in St. Johns County when it hit the Florida coast on November 10, officials said. That includes massive erosion of many of its beachfronts, as well as flooding in historic downtown St. Augustine.

Marineland is located across the street from the beach at 9600 Oceanshore Blvd., about 16 miles from St. Augustine and just south of Matanzas Inlet. It was near that inlet, about two miles away, that a beachgoer came across the twisted old signs, estimated to date from shortly after Marine Studios opened in 1938, facilities historian Terran McGinnis said.

It’s an exciting discovery, but the community reaction to the discovery is even more satisfying, he said.

“We already have a huge collection of Marineland items from previous years: lab equipment, photographs, movie scripts, animal records, correspondence, blueprints, employee records, newspaper articles, etc.,” he said. “So it’s not the articles themselves that excited me as much as the enthusiasm of the gentleman who initially found them… And the great response from the public when I posted the story on social media. I love our story and I love sharing with the public, so to see people get as excited as I was was very satisfying.”

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Marineland opened in June 1938 as Marine Studios, designed for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage for movies and newsreels. A newspaper clipping posted on Marineland’s website indicates that nearly 30,000 people packed the waterfront attraction on the first day, and it quickly became known as the world’s first oceanarium.

In the 1950s, Marine Studios became Marineland of Florida, one of the state’s top public attractions, with up to 500,000 visitors per year, according to its website. In 2004, Older deteriorating structures have been closed and a new, updated facility has begun that focuses on education and animal-human interactions. The attraction reopened in 2006 as the Marineland Dolphin Conservation Center, then was acquired in 2011 by Georgia Aquarium and renamed Marineland Dolphin Adventure. And the historic arch entrance was restored and rededicated in 2018.

The distorted signs were found near the dune crossing on the ocean side of Matanzas Inlet the day after Nicole devastated the area, McGinnis said. The storm’s effect on Marineland was minimal, he said.

“Our facility was built for storms like this and has been tested multiple times,” he said. “We took a day for cleanup and reopened on Saturday. The road, including the Matanzas bridge, is open and in good condition. The main damage was to the dune north of Marineland, which had been damaged during Ian and was not yet clear. fully repaired.” restored, allowing water and sand to wash away up to A1A”.

A beachgoer saw the signs and called her the Friday after Nicole was hit, McGinnis said. He had been searching for treasures when he found them, three in all.

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    One of two vintage Marine Studios (now Marineland) directional signs discovered on November 10 by Tropical Storm Nicole on a beach in Matanzas Inlet.
One of two vintage Marine Studios (now Marineland) directional signs discovered on November 10 by Tropical Storm Nicole on a beach in Matanzas Inlet.

“I got there early in the afternoon the same day and was able to find two of the three signs, no longer in the crosswalk, now kind of buried in the sand,” McGinnis said. “The one I couldn’t find was the one in the best condition. I presume, but I’m not sure, that someone took it.

The remaining signs are difficult to read due to rust and warping, one clearly showing the outline of a stylized dolphin leaping out of the water. Both appear to have arrows and the word “miles” on them, which McGinnis said he believes are directional signs pointing people to Marine Studios.

“They may have been traffic signals, but I’m not sure,” he said.

McGinnis said he doesn’t know if the wind or waves discovered them. But by now, he has consulted with the restoration team of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Marine Program, which actively searches for shipwrecks in the county’s historic waters, as well as with a professional metal conservator.

“I’m waiting for final quotes on how much the restoration will cost,” he said. “The goal would be to preserve the signs so they can be displayed at Marineland or any of the three museum exhibits we currently have throughout the community in Flagler and St. Johns counties. We already have a large collection of items in a very strong archival collection, so these signs will be small but exciting additions.”

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