Brooklyn Boro

Pratt family descendant co-founded Marineland in Florida

July 9, 2015 By Palmer Hasty Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Tourists enjoy dolphins performing at Marineland in Florida. Photos courtesy of State Archives of Florida, “Florida Memory.”

Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute recently made news when a new home for its film and video department was launched in the former Prattstore building at 550 Myrtle Ave. Pratt Institute has a distinguished place in Brooklyn history and is rated among the top 25 percent of American colleges by the Princeton Review.

Many people nowadays may not know much about Sherman Pratt, grandson of Brooklyn industrialist Charles Pratt, who founded Pratt Institute back in 1887.  Sherman was born in Brooklyn in 1900, the second son of George Dupont Pratt.

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S. Pratt grew up in Clinton Hill and is one of the subjects of a forthcoming Brooklyn Eagle online historical project called “Brooklyn Footprints in Florida.”  

Pratt was an explorer, wildlife photographer and big-game hunter. He left an indelible footprint in Florida as one of the primary founders in the 1930s of Marineland, known as the world’s first “oceanarium,” on the East Coast of Florida, just south of St. Augustine.

Marineland was the precursor to all of the popular sea mammal attractions around the world today. It is currently on the U. S. National Register of Historic Places.

Pratt, who had connections to RKO film studios, joined with several friends, including Douglas Burden, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Ilya Tolstoy, the grandson of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (“War and Peace”), to open a public aquarium where they could study and film sea creatures in their natural habitat.  

Pratt died in 1964. In the New York Times obit, it was noted that Pratt himself actually caught many of the large exotic fish used in the salt-water aquarium originally called Marine Studios.

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What these pioneers did not anticipate was that Marineland quickly became wildly popular as a tourist attraction. It was Florida’s first theme park. According to the Florida Backroads Travel website (http://www.florida-backroads-travel.com/), not long after it opened, Marineland was attracting 300,000 tourists a year.  

At its peak, Marineland was attracting over 900,000 visitors a year, but that started to decline in the 1970s when Walt Disney World entered the Florida tourism picture.

Marineland was also the location where scenes from some famous horror movies, such as “The Creature From The Black Lagoon,” were filmed. Episodes from the popular TV series “Sea Hunt,” starring Lloyd Bridges, were also filmed at Marineland. Adjacent to the giant aquarium was a hotel and bar. The bar was called “Moby Dick’s Bar,” and none other than Ernest Hemmingway was known to spend time drinking there. It is believed that Hemmingway was a friend of Tolstoy’s grandson.  

In the 1980s, the primary stockholder in the private company, Vanderbilt Whitney, decided to sell Marineland to a group of St. Augustine businessmen. Eventually two hurricanes damaged many of the buildings in 1999. Between 2004 and 2006, Marine Park underwent major renovations, during which time the original circular aquarium of 1938 had to be demolished. Today, what was Marineland is now owned by a subsidiary of Georgia Aquarium and has been renamed “Marineland Dolphin Adventure.”


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