Paradise Park was a segregated African-American resort located about a mile down the Silver River from the popular Silver Springs attraction near Ocala, Florida. The park was developed by Carl Ray and W.M. “Shorty” Davidson, co-owners of Silver Springs for nearly four decades. Paradise Park opened May 20, 1949 and remained open until 1969. African-American families, tour buses and church groups came from all over Florida and the United States to visit the attraction. Amenities included a pavilion with a dance floor and jukebox, a swimming area with a sandy beach, tropical landscaping and space for softball and other games. Like its counterpart Silver Springs, Paradise Park featured glass-bottom boat tours that introduced visitors to the beauty of the Silver River. Easter egg hunts, baptisms and picnics were common, and at Christmas, Santa Claus would cruise down the river on a glass-bottom boat to pass out candy, nuts and fruit for young visitors. Herpetologist Ross Allen even set up a reptile exhibit at the park, similar to the one located upriver at Silver Springs.
Renowned underwater photographer Bruce Mozert filmed this promotional movie for Paradise Park, probably in the early 1950s. It opens with a shot of a sign directing motorists to the attraction, likely located at the intersection of Paradise Road (now NE 24th St.) and State Road 40. Scenes from the parking lot and picnic area come next, followed by footage from one of the park’s annual Labor Day beauty contests. These competitions were sponsored by the American Legion and featured contestants from across the state. Toward the end of the contest footage, a Legion official presents the winners with their awards. The film then moves on to the glass bottom boats, including footage of the passengers’ view into the clear waters of the Silver River. A young man and woman identified as Thomas and Lottie Donaldson swim to the sandy bottom with a sign that reads “Don’t Miss Paradise Park.” Bathers dive into the swimming area from a platform. The final scenes are from Ross Allen’s reptile exhibit, where an assistant is shown feeding and herding alligators. Two assistants are then seen in a snake exhibit, one handing a snake to someone in the crowd.
The State Archives partnered with Department of Environmental Protection, the owners of the film, to preserve the original 16 mm film and digitize it. Archivists sought outside assistance and worked closely with the film restoration specialists at MediaPreserve, an Audio-Visual Laboratory in Pennsylvania to restore most of the film stock and create a digital reproduction of its contents.
Florida Memory is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Florida’s LSTA program is administered by the Department of State's Division of Library and Information Services.