Tampa restaurateur buys Fairyland figures at auction

By Sara Belsole, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, January 14, 2017, 3:34 PM EST

The iconic Fairyland figures built in the 1950’s at Lowry Park Zoo will soon have a new home.

  • Restaurateur Richard Gonzmart bid successfully on 11 Fairyland figures
  • Figures will be restored, placed in Ulele Restaurant in Tampa
  • Gonzmart spent almost $29,000 on the figures

The pieces, absent from the zoo since their removal in 1996, were up for auction at Manheim Auction House Saturday.

"I grew up in Tampa in the 70’s and my folks used to take me to Lowry Park Zoo and I have such fond memories of Fairyland,” bidder Nichole Schall said. “To own a piece of the Tampanian history would just be amazing for us."

Schall had stiff competition among the day's bidders, however. TV history show "The Tampa Native Show" first learned of the auction and launched a fundraising campaign to purchase them.

“Before the mouse in Orlando—before Disney—this was our Disney World,” host Mario Nuñez said.

Restaurateur Richard Gonzmart also came to the auction with the hopes of bringing home these pieces of Tampa's history. In fact, he was out to bring them all home.

"This takes me back to my childhood when my grandparents would take me there and birthday parties were celebrated at Fairyland,” Gonzmart said. “You go over that bridge, the rainbow bridge and you went to that place where your imagination would roam."

A Facebook post about the auction caught Gonzmart’s attention, and Nuñez said they were happy to step aside.

“He is an angel,” Nuñez said. “He’s got a heart bigger than most people can imagine.”

Gonzmart is no stranger to restoring Tampa classics. He recently re-opened Goody Goody, which was originally established in the 1920’s.

He said he hopes to restore the figures and place them at his Ulele Restaurant along the Tampa Riverwalk.

At the auction, Gonzmart had to outbid a few bidders to get his hands on 11 of the figures. The Cinderella figurine sold for the most: $8,000.

"I couldn't have slept tonight if I let it go because a $100, $200,” Gonzmart said.

Gonzmart spent almost $29,000 on the figures. He did not bid on the miscellaneous lot, which sold to another bidder for $1550.

“This is about preserving it for future generations," said Gonzmart. "This is history. There’s no price on history."