Growth in Bay County: A Glimpse of Iconic Places of the Past

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Watch all the growth and change across Bay County since hurricane Michael was revealing. The transformation has been simply amazing.

Beautiful new buildings spring up where shattered horrors used to be, sometimes piles of twisted metal and broken wood. Jobs are increasing and many new residents are flocking to fill new subdivisions. Yes, Bay County is coming back to life. I love the bright, clean new release and the vision of what’s to come. I am proud to call Panama City my home.

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Bay County Growth:‘Panama City North’ primed for explosive growth. Road, school and commercial projects on the radar.

But the changes also remind me of the peaceful Bay County of yesteryear where I grew up and all the iconic places that are now gone, some long gone.

My family moved here in the late 1960’s when Dad was transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base. Believe me, Bay County was sleepy back then, except for about three months during the summer when Panama City Beach woke up. But on Labor Day, PCB once again tidied up the deckchairs and rolled up the sidewalks. It was time for another nine months of hibernation. Sometimes you might drive along Front Beach Road in late September and not see another car for a mile or two.

Wow, those days are not coming back! Nor many of our favorite places of the past 50 years.

Who remembers the Isle of View drive-in theater in Springfield? How about the Castle Dracula Wax Museum in Panama City Beach? Or the many Jr. Food Stores that dot the county’s landscape?

They bring back memories, don’t they?

An aerial view of the Miracle Strip amusement park in May 1966, with the Starliner roller coaster as the main attraction.

But I bet the kids of the 60s and 70s would say these three places were their favorites, hands down: Miracle Strip Amusement Park and Petticoat Junction Amusement Park in Panama City Beach, and Silver Circle Ice Rink in Panama. City. We all begged our moms and dads to take us to these three places all the time.

The Miracle Strip amusement park operated from 1963 to 2004. The highlight of the park was The Starliner, the first roller coaster built in Florida. The “out and back” wooden roller coaster was such a classic that it lived another life in Winter Haven after Miracle Strip closed. Great things live!

As a foodie, I can’t leave out a few places that might satisfy those cravings. Anyone up for Zip’s Ice Cream? Perhaps Loco’s Bar & Grill on 23rd Street, now home to Mexican restaurant El Jalisco? Or easily my favorite restaurant of all time, as anyone who knows me well can attest, House of Chan (versions I and II). New Bay County has hundreds of restaurants and snack bars, but nothing tops these three.

One of Panama City Beach’s most popular attractions in the late 50s and 60s was “The Hangout.” But it wasn’t really an attraction, just a simple dance hall. Regardless, The Hangout was always packed during the summer with teenagers and young adults having fun and writhing all night long.

Here’s one that might surprise some longtime residents. Does anyone remember the owner of the Red Rooster nightclub, aka “The Kickin’ Chicken”, in Panama City Beach? Ask Hank Williams Jr., he’ll tell you.

And finally, a few hobbies that have disappeared over the past 10 years or so. Have any of you stood on top of the observation deck at the old Bay County Airport (now the site of the SweetBay community) and watched the planes land and to take off ? It was the only observation deck I had ever seen at an airport. And who hasn’t strolled through the Panama City Mall just because it was cool inside and it was nice to walk around while chatting with a friend? Hurricane Michael put an end to that.

Well, there it is. While a list of long-dead Bay County favorites could be hundreds of lines, these are my quick picks for talking with my friends and family. Now it’s your turn. What are your favorites from the past? Email me with your top two or three and include a line or two explaining why they were special to you. I might include them in a future column.

Ray Glenn is content coach and engagement editor at the Panama City News Herald. You can reach him at [email protected]

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