TAMPA — Among Richard Gonzmart's fondest childhood memories are playing at nursery rhyme-inspired Fairyland park then heading over to Goody Goody Burger for dinner.
Fairyland was razed in 1996. Goody Goody closed in 2005.
But Gonzmart, the prominent local restaurant owner, wishes every Tampa child could enjoy the daylong experience he remembers, so he's working to bring it back.
First, he purchased the rights to the Goody Goody name and last summer in Hyde Park re-opened the burger joint originally established downtown in 1925.
Now, he's planning to bid on the life-sized concrete and fiberglass nursery rhyme figures that once populated the 15-acre North Tampa park known as Fairyland.
The city of Tampa will auction the figures Saturday and Gonzmart hopes to walk away with them. He would restore them and place them at his Ulele Restaurant and Brewery in Waterworks Park along the Tampa Riverwalk.
"My phone rings with the theme from Andy Griffith," said Gonzmart, 63, whose family also owns the 102-year-old Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. "Call me nostalgic or a romantic fool, but I miss that time when things were more wholesome. I want to bring some of that back."
The sale will be held at 10 a.m. at the Manheim auction house, 401 S 50th St.
The figures depict a number of individual fairy tales and will be offered for sale by story.
The statues will not be present. Any bidder interested in a preview can call Manheim at (800) 622-7292.
Fairyland was built in the 1950s as a free complement to Lowry Park Zoo.
Nursery rhyme music would play throughout the attraction and the characters lined a winding path.
Rapunzel peered out of the tower that held her captive. The big bad spider looked down on Little Miss Muffet. Children could climb Jack's beanstalk.
"This was before iPads," Gonzmart said. "Kids used their imaginations to play and Fairyland was a great place for that."
The park was dismantled to make way for a larger zoo. The statues now sit outside a city warehouse near MacDill Air Force Base.
Some have not survived the years. The Three Little Pigs story is missing the brick house, though the houses of straw and sticks remain intact.
Others are in poor shape. Sleeping Beauty's face is caved in.
"They'll have to be restored," Gonzmart said. "We'll get it done."
This is welcome news to Mario Nunez, host of the TV history program The Tampa Natives Show.
When Nunez learned of the auction, he spearheaded a fundraising effort to purchase and restore the statues then find a home for them.
Someone tagged Gonzmart on a Facebook post about Nunez's plan and that piqued the interest of the restaurateur.
Nunez raised nearly $2,000 but will not try to outbid Gonzmart.
"When the cavalry shows up, you step aside and let them lead," Nunez said. "Richard Gonzmart is the right person for this job.
In the spirit of the original Fairyland, there would be no charge to enjoy the statues if Gonzmart comes away with them.
"They will be part of the Riverwalk for generations to enjoy again," Gonzmart said. "That's how it should be."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.