On January 17, 1951, John Pedersen purchased the 350-acre palmetto patch for about $25 an acre at auction from the town of Boca Raton. The town had earlier acquired the undeveloped land from the Mizner Development Corp. in the late 20s, probably in payment of back taxes when Mizner's dream had ended in bankruptcy. Pedersen's purchase included all of what is now Camino Gardens, Corinthian Gardens Apartments, all the "Plaza" office buildings on Camino Gardens Boulevard, the Camino Shopping Center (housing Fresh Market and Eckards) and almost all of the land south of them to the Deerfield Beach line...
Surveying his newest acquisition, 55-year-old Pedersen wasted no time... he immediately set about fulfilling his boast to creating a theme park to be heralded on billboards throughout the East Coast as "Africa, U.S.A." Of his 350 acres, he chose the northern portion, the 177 acres now known as the subdivision Camino Gardens, as the site for his park.
In the park, thousands of trees and shrubs were planted, a sample of which reads like a horticultural catalog:
3000 royal poincianas
6000 fireball and single poincianas
tens of thousands of hibiscus and other tropical flowers
Fruit trees from all over the tropical world were imported: 1000 bananas, tea, vanilla, tapioca, sago, chicle, sausage, palms, kapok, ginreg, camphor, henna, pickle, lipstick, ebony, mahogany, and olive... Bamboo and numerous other exotic trees and shrubs which Pedersen imported remain today and may still be seen in Camino Gardens' "Park at the Lake".
Now, more than ever before, John Pedersen was too busy to travel to the "Dark Continent." The coveted journey was assigned to his 29-year-old son Jack, who crossed the South Atlantic to begin the monumental task of bringing Africa back to Boca Raton. Six months later, in October, 1952, after a forty-day voyage, Jack arrived at Port Everglades aboard what could be termed a "modern-day Noah's Ark." It bore a cargo of about a hundred animals from Kenya and Tanganyika Territory, many of which had been purchased at $1,000 a head...
All the animals were allowed to roam freely throughout the park... two 8' high fences were constructed around the entire perimeter of what is now Camino Gardens, so that even if a gazelle got "jumpy" and made it over the first fence, he couldn't get enough running room to scale the second hurdle...
Opening day of "Africa, U.S.A." in February, 1953 was filled with fanfare and hoopla as local dignitaries welcomed the hundreds of new four-footed settlers to town.
At age 65, Pedersen could take no more. In September, 1961, the park which had been one of America's best known tourist attractions for eight years, was closed. The following month Pedersen sold his 177 acres to developers, a Rhode Island-based firm... for $1,000,000 cold cash... Within thirty days after the sale, Pedersen sold the remaining animals to zoos and circuses throughout the United States and Mexico.
In March 2003, The Camino Gardens Association placed a plaque to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Africa USA. The plaque reads as follows;
"At this site in 1953, John D. Pedersen and his family established "Africa USA," a major Boca Raton tourist attraction for nearly a decade.
The 350 acre site drew some 2,000 visitors daily to view the park's camels, giraffes, elephants and other exotic animals and plants.
In the park a "Watusi Geyser" erupted hourly from the rock still visible in the lake, throwing 1,000 gallons of water per minute, 160 feet into the air. Near the left edge of the lake are remnants of "Zambezi Falls," the park's 30 foot waterfall.
Dedicated by the Camino Gardens Association in March 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Africa, USA."
For a complete site dedicated to the memory of Africa, U.S.A. please visit http://africa-usa.com/. Copies can be ordered via this website.
*Excerpts from the publication "Farewell Africa, U.S.A. Hail Camino Gardens" March/2000