Busch Gardens: The History of America’s Favorite Beer Garden

Posted by Staff on Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Entrance to Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tampa, Florida

These days we associate Busch Gardens with the East Coast of the United States, but the 100-plus year history of the amusement parks starts in Pasadena, California. It was there that Adolphus Busch, co-founder of the American brewing company, Anheuser-Busch, opened the first Busch Gardens at his winter estate in 1906. Unlike the Busch Gardens of today, with their roller coasters and animal parks, the Pasadena estate was simply a garden open to tourists. “Simply” may be a bit of an understatement, as they were sprawling and immaculately manicured gardens. In 1909 a second section, the Lower Gardens, was officially opened to the public. Lily Busch, Adolphus’ wife, installed fairytale scenes within these more rustic gardens to entertain the children that often visited them for picnics and Easter egg hunts.

Panorama of Busch Gardens Pasadena, California in 1906

Busch Gardens Pasadena

This first chapter in the history of Busch Gardens came to an end in 1913 when Adolphus died while staying at his villa in Germany. The legacy of the gardens, however, lives on in many movies that were there, such as Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Frankenstein, before they were eventually subdivided in the late 1930s.

Boat Ride at Busch Gardens Van Nuys, California

Busch Gardens Van Nuys

Busch Gardens of Pasadena wasn’t the last Busch Gardens to appear in California. In 1954 Anheuser-Busch opened a brewery in Van Nuys, California, followed by an updated version of Busch Gardens in 1966. By this time, the Busch Entertainment Corporation had already opened their Tampa Bay gardens (pictured at top) in 1959, which was an admission free hospitality facility with a beer garden and bird sanctuary. In a similar fashion, Busch transformed a 17-acre cabbage patch adjacent to the Van Nuys brewery into a tropical beer garden and bird sanctuary. Amongst the many activities provided for visitors were boat rides across a lagoon, a monorail, a log-flume ride, and a suspended trolley tour through the brewery; but perhaps the most popular attraction was the free beer. Once the park admission was paid, anyone of drinking age was allowed “two 10-ounce glasses of beer at each of the five pavilions.” By the mid-seventies attendance began to slow down and August Busch III decided to close the park in December of 1976, which according to him, “had never been profitable.”

The Brewery Tour Trolley at Busch Gardens Van Nuys, California

Tour Trolley at Van Nuys

Meanwhile, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as well as Busch Gardens Williamsburg were becoming full-fledged amusement parks. Each park is themed according to a different continent: the Tampa Bay park is African-themed and the Williamsburg park is European-themed.

The Python corckscrew coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa, Florida

The Python

Since it first opened, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which was formerly known as Busch Gardens Africa, has become one of the largest zoological institutions in the United States. In addition to the original bird sanctuary, Busch Gardens has since accumulated 2,700 exotic animals, the most recent of which are the five cheetahs that inspired the 2011 roller coaster Cheetah Hunt. The earliest rides at Busch Gardens were trains, such as the Serengeti Express Railroad (1971), which traveled through the park and gave guests a view of the many African animals roaming their habitats. It was in 1977 that Busch Gardens joined the “roller coaster arms race” that was sweeping the country and unveiled their corkscrew coaster, the Python. Other groundbreaking coasters throughout the years would include the seven inversion Kumba in 1993, and 1996’s Montu. Although they continue to push the limits in roller coaster design, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will always be first and foremost an animal sanctuary.

Panoramic view of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Busch Gardens Williamsburg first opened in 1975 as Busch Gardens: The Old Country. The park is divided into seven different sections inspired by European countries, including England, Scotland, Italy, France, French Canada, Germany, and Ireland. The rides in each section reflect the landscape and landmarks of each particular country, and also include Broadway-style shows. Though not as extensive as the Tampa Bay park, there is a wildlife reserve that is home to a number of bald eagles and wolves. The Williamsburg park also has stables featuring Scottish Blackface Sheep and Clydesdales, the breed of horse associated with Anheuser-Busch. Roller coasters first arrived here in 1978, but they have added relatively few over the years; today there are only five in operation. However, 2012 will see a new multi-launch roller coaster called the Verbolten.

As of now, these are the only two Busch Gardens in operation, though at one point there were rumors of a Busch Gardens Dubai on the man-made island, Palm Jumeirah. However, due to financial difficulties, and a report that the island is sinking at the rate of 5mm per year, it is very unlikely that we will see the park built anytime soon.

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