The rise, fall, and rebirth of Virginia’s Ocean View

The rise, fall, and rebirth of Virginia’s Ocean View

Photo of an abandoned amusement park by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

By Ava Edwards

July 11, 2024

Nestled off of Norfolk’s section of the Chesapeake Bay is a stretch of land filled with new housing developments, popular restaurants, and expansive beaches called Ocean View. This region is well-known to locals and has become a staple for summer tourists for its beautiful beaches and tourist attractions. What many don’t know about Ocean View is its extensive history, and how it used to be called “The Coney Island of Virginia.”

At the onset of the British colonists landing in North America, Norfolk’s Ocean View area was dubbed “Maganon Plantation” for about 200 years. 

It wasn’t until 1854, when civil engineer William Mahone saw the promise of Maganon Plantation for something more than farming land. The plantation’s location was optimal, and the beautiful beaches had potential, so Mahone got to work. Throughout 1854, Mahone started construction on the Norfolk-Petersburg railroad and organized the streets and neighborhoods that would become “Ocean View”.

With its new railroad and established city layout, contractors saw an opportunity to make Ocean View the tourist destination for the commonwealth.

In 1896, contractors dreamed up ways to make Ocean View “the Coney Island of Virginia.” The plan was simple: Make Ocean View a beach amusement park to rival New York’s Coney Island. And so, construction began.

By the summer of 1905, the Ocean View Amusement Park was open for business. At the turn of the century, amusement parks skyrocketed in popularity, which meant that Ocean View’s park was right on time and extremely popular… well, for the first half of the century. 

Ocean View Amusement Park had numerous attractions for visitors, including roller coasters, beach attractions, dance halls, a casino, a resort, and a special section for children. However, the main attraction of the park was the Skyrocket, a wooden roller coaster originally built in 1927. The Skyrocket was damaged by a fire in 1958 and was rebuilt soon after because of its massive popularity. 

The area continued to boom through the 1950s, thanks in part to the construction of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. The structure was built in 1957, which made it easier to reach the amusement park from the Eastern Shore.

However, some of the new infrastructure in the area also contributed to the park’s eventual downfall. In 1963, the I-64 overpass was built, which made it much easier for tourists to bypass Ocean View for Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront. 

The new overpass led to a slow decline in the popularity of Ocean View, and a decade later, the introduction of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg (only 45 minutes away from Ocean View) seemingly sealed Ocean View Amusement Park’s fate. 

In 1978, Ocean View Amusement Park shut down after Labor Day, and the park became a ghost town of empty roller coasters and rides. The Ocean View area took a hit from this loss, with the park’s closure giving fewer options for tourists. So when a film production company reached out to city officials to shoot a movie in the empty park, they accepted. 

The film was meant to retell the rise and fall of the amusement park, and the ending would feature the park’s largest attraction, the Skyrocket, blown up with explosives. The Skyrocket was rigged with explosives, and with cameras pointed, the director yelled, “Action!” 

The explosives went off, but something unexpected happened: While there was a large explosion with lots of fire and smoke, the wooden Skyrocket refused to budge. The structure was largely unaffected by the explosion. 

In 1979, the Skyrocket was torn down by bulldozers, along with the rest of the park. Virginia’s Coney Island was gone after 70 years, and the town of Ocean View largely fell off the map.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that hope was visible for Ocean View’s future. During this decade, the demand for coastal property grew, which made most of Ocean View prime real estate. Construction began on Ocean View’s neighborhoods, and a borough now called East Beach became a coveted spot for expensive beach houses. 

During Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Ocean View’s old fishing pier was destroyed due to high winds and waves. Construction began on a new pier soon after, and the new feature became a staple for the community. 

Not only does the Ocean View Fishing Pier have a popular restaurant attached to it, but it is also the longest free-standing fishing pier in North America, making it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. 

With a new pier, new property, and new promise for the area, Ocean View began rebuilding itself and its reputation throughout the early 2000s.

Now, Ocean View is a booming section of Norfolk, fitted with public beaches, popular restaurants, and new property constructions throughout the area. 

Ocean View has always had potential for great things. William Mahone saw its potential in the 1850s, and new property management sees it now. What was once an abandoned amusement town is now home to thousands of people—and it’s once again a thriving tourist destination every summer.

  • Ava Edwards

    Ava is an up-and-coming journalist who recently graduated from William & Mary with a degree in English. She's written for news publications such as her school's newspaper, The Flat Hat, and Hampton Roads' WAVY-TV 10. As a lifelong Virginia resident, she looks forward to informing her community on the latest information and events.

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