The early Miracle Strip along Panama City Beach was, and is, traditionally known for its outlandish attractions designed to entertain visitors to the Florida Gulf Coast. One such attraction was Jungle Land. Originally begun as housing for a roadside zoo attraction in the mid-1960s, the oversized artificial volcano reflected the whimsical architecture of reinforced stucco and concrete that was beginning to dot the coast.
Owner Val Valentine hired young women dressed (more or less) in full “Jungle Jane” gear to serve as tour guides leading visitors on a “dangerous” (again, more or less) tour through a winding cave to the center of the structure. Along the way, people could peek through holes in the cavern’s walls to get a glimpse of the “lava” bubbling at the core. Valentine also had the volcano fully stocked with smoke pots to emit smoke and flame from the opening which could be seen from quite a distance. Wild animals were kept at the center of Jungle Land and were trained by his “cave girls” to put on various performances for the tourists.
Although Jungle Land has since disappeared as a roadside attraction in Panama City, you can still experience the original, volcano-like structure which now houses Alvin’s Island Magic Mountain store. Venturing inside is a lot like walking into a colorful stalactite wonderland lined with plush dolphins and wholesale puka shell wind chimes. Nestled further into the center of the building (below the floor with the bathing suit cover-ups), you can find live alligators. Sometimes a trainer is on hand to give customers a chance to meet and greet these native reptiles.
The area may have lost an icon of kitsch when Jungle Land shut its doors for good in the early 1980s, but Alvin’s Island has rather historic roots in the area as well. Alvin Walsingham, founder of the Alvin’s Island chain, sought to cater to the booming tourist and souvenir business that was coming to define Panama City’s Miracle Strip. In 1981, he purchased the defunct Jungle Land volcano and opened a branch of his chain as the Magic Mountain store.
Walsingham built onto to the volcano, ensuring that the new additions matched the existing rock-like structure. The store has since cut back on allowing the volcano to erupt, but has also tried to maintain the original pseudo-Polynesian and tropical theme that Valentine had envisioned. Today there are several Alvin’s Island locations in the Florida panhandle, including in Destin and Fort Walton Beach. The crown jewel, of course, is still the Magic Mountain Store!
See our photo exhibit entitled Roadside Attractions in Florida for more images of sites like Alvin’s Island.