Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Around the Playworlds in 80s Days

The breaking of the 49th seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse is the sound of a cartoon kangaroo jumping on your frowny face! Cry along with the Nostrodomatron as I realize it has been almost twenty years since countless millions of frowns were forever frozen upside down when Lionel Corporation closed the doors of its toy supermarkets. Yes it's a Lionel Playworldocalypse with special guest William "Mr. Playworld" Hamby bouncing in to reminisce about growing up a Playworld kid and working at the Toy Capital of the World. Why do billions of children agree Playworld was the greatest toy supermarket (and pool table and outdoor rifle dealer) of all time? Whatever happened to all those buildings that used to be Playworlds in southern Florida? How many miles can a kid ride a bike balancing the GI Joe Defiant Space Vehicle Launch Complex on the handlebars? And why does October always smell to me like Kaycee Kangaroo? Find out all this and more in this WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT THIS FROWN NOW?!?! edition of the Podcastalypse!

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The Playworld on Pembroke Road...

as it appeared in a newspaper article from 1982...

...and what it is now in 2012.
When I was a kid growing up in El Paso, Texas, my life was changed forever at the age of ten with the grand opening of a Lionel Playworld just a few blocks from me back in October of 1985. There was nothing else like it. Toys R Us wouldn't open in El Paso for another two years. Suddenly my toy exposure went from the single aisle of action figures at K-Mart to worshipping Playworld's full blown toy robots Valhalla where they had entire gondolas dedicated to toy robots alone. I loved that store. Then it went out of business and consequently my life turned to crap. Well when I visited Colorado for Vintage Space Toast Tour Denverado I was surprised to find that they had a couple of Playworld stores in the 80s and those had been around since at least '78. It was an eye-popping revelation. It's like living in the present where Halloween is only once a year and then excavating the site of some long lost tribe of Colorodoan Halloween people civilization who had Halloween every day. I thought Playworld was just one local store that existed in El Paso, not an entire chain of multiple toy Valhallas scattered across the universe. So you can imagine how blown away I was when I moved to southern Florida and found Playworld was down here since the early seventies and they were all over the place! Broward County is a virtual graveyard of Playworlds! I became obsessed what those buildings were like now. While the idea of visiting the corpses of one's childhood Valhallas might be depressing to some people, I decided I wanted to visit them all anyways. Nevermind that they would probably be old, abandoned, or converted into something else. I just wanted to visit the buildings that were once brothers to the store that shaped my childhood. And maybe, just maybe, one of them may still be something remotely similar to a toy store. I hoped I could at least find something robot related for sale at one of these used-to-be-toy-heavens.

Lionel Playworld 24 October 1970


So I started digging deep in the newspaper archives of the local library, which is where all the most revered ancient knowledges of secret lost Floridian toy civilizations are kept. Sure enough, I was able to figure out Playworld opened down here in a big way in 1970. The ad above is one of the earliest for the Playworlds of southern Florida. There was yet another surprise in store for me. When Playworld first started it was a place where you could buy sporting goods and camping equipment in addition to toys! Eventually the sporting goods would be phased out but in those early ads you could usually find rifles and pool tables. Note how there are four stores listed in Broward County and only one in Miami (the Hialeah store on west 49th). At its peak during the 70s and 80s Playworld would have up to 8 stores operating simultaneously in southern Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties. With the exception of the Oakland Park location, these original Broward stores and the 49th street one in Miami would stay open from 1970 through the chain's demise.

Oakland Park
Lauderhill on State Road 7
Pompano on US1

West Palm on Military Trail


Once I had the addresses down I went out on my quest to visit the locations that used to be Playworld. The buildings pictured above are the sites of the first four Playworlds in Broward County. They all share a distinct shape, which leads me to believe the structures were built by Lionel Corporation. It's a form characterized by an overall elongated rectangular front with a large area protruding up from above the entrance that made space for where the marquee originally mounted. Of the original four, three are still occupied and in business today. One is an art supply store, one is an antique mall, and the last one is split up into a dollar store, a furniture store, and an AutoZone. So it's possible for some people to walk into the same building that used to be their Playworld and stand in the spot where they first bought Star Wars figures in 1978 (although that spot may now be an endcap stocked with antifreeze). I was hoping that the one that's now an antique mall would have some old Transformers or other kinds of robot that maybe would have first been sold at that building when it was a Playworld. I was also hoping I would pass my Calculus mid term but that didn't happen, either. But if anyone is looking for hardcover volumes of the erotic art of H.R. Giger I know a certain antique mall in Pompano Beach you need to check out.

(this may be)Coral Springs-the last Playworld ever built

The Fountains location-the last Broward Playworld

After the initial burst of three Broward stores in 1970, three additional Playworlds would open up in Broward County from 1973 through 1988. There was the Hollywood location in 1973 followed by the Coral Springs Mall store in 1986 and then the one at the Fountains Shopping Center in 1988. The Hollywood location lasted for 10 years before closing in 1984 but the other two stayed open until the chain's demise. The Coral Springs store is notable (according to this message board post) for being the very last Playworld built by the Lionel Corporation. If this is true, Playworlds opened after 1986 all moved into existing buildings. I am not 100% certain that the empty building I took a picture of is the exact location of the Lionel Playworld because I have no eyewitness testimony to back me up unlike all the other buildings I've taken pictures of. But I'm pretty confident that it was.

Speaking of existing buildings, the Lauderhill location in the Fountains shopping center is also significant as being the last Lionel Playworld opened in Florida. The chain died 5 years after this store opened its doors. It was later converted to a SteinMart but it remains unoccupied to this day. One of my native Floridian friends told me that there used to be big lion statues at the entrance to that building when it was a Playworld but they've since been taken down. The Fountains store most closely resembles the brown bricky exterior of the Playworld built near my home in El Paso. I never knew Playworlds of the early seventies with their creamy white exteriors that looked like long giant soap bars. My Playworld looked like it was a castle and when I saw the Fountains store I instinctively knew it used to be a Playworld because it looked so much like the one by my house when I was a kid.

Lionel Playworld 07 October 1970
Lionel Playworld 24 June 1981


Well that wraps up this 20 years too late tour of the Lionel Playworlds of Broward County. I would like to summarize the comings and goings of Playworld stores in this area so I made a list of all the southern Florida Playworlds including the years they opened and closed. Since I'm not a native I don't know if this information is 100% accurate but it's the best I've been able to piece together from the sources I have. So now I present to you...

A chronological listing of the opening and closings of Lionel Playworld stores in southern Florida (Broward and Miami Dade counties) based on newspaper ads and news reports:

1970-LAUDERHILL (closed 1993) 1621 N. State Rd No. 7 (Now an abandoned building)
1970-OAKLAND PARK (closed 1971) 1033 E. Oakland Park Blvd (Now a Pearl discount art supplies)
1970-HIALEAH (closed 1993) 1170 West 49th Street (Now a La Ideal baby store)
1970-POMPANO BEACH closed (1993) 960 North Federal Highway (Now the Sugar Chest Antique Mall)
1970-WEST PALM BEACH closed (1993) 1722 Military Trail North (Now AutoZone/Aaron's/Deals)
1971-An ad from 1971
1971-CORAL WAY (closed 1993) Shopping Ctr. 8621 Coral Way (Now Party City)
1971-NORTH MIAMI (closed 1993) Biscayne Blvd at 123rd (unconfirmed as a present day Ross store)
1973-An ad from 1973
1973-HOLLYWOOD (closed 1984) Pembroke & 441 (Now a D&B Tile)
1980-CUTLER RIDGE (closed 1985) 20805 S Dixie Highway
1986-CORAL SPRINGS (closed 1993) W. Atlantic Blvd & Riverside Dr. (Now abandoned)
1988-An ad from 1988
1988-PLANTATION (closed 1993) 801 S. University Drive The Fountains Shopping Center (Now abandoned)
1993-The closings hit Florida

D&B Tile coming soon to this location!


  • Welcome to the Playworldocalypse!
  • Donald Saypol & the genesis of Playworld
  • The vintage Broward Playworld abandoned buildings tour
  • Live from (possibly) the last Playworld ever built
  • Desperately staring at faded store facades
  • Old mommy memories and the mystery of Coral Square mall
  • Play it again world
  • It would be easier to visit Playworld if they weren't extinct
  • Playworld's traditional late Autumn grand openings
  • Playworld is my arc rector
  • Wishing I had some of that Playworld cream
  • Nostalgia driven trespassing is not without its risks
  • Playworld made me a robot fan
  • Interview with William Hamby
  • Growing up a Lionel Playworld kid
  • The universality of Playworld floorplans
  • Seeing Playworld Star Wars displays in 1977
  • Pedaling 6 miles to Playworld daily to annoy the managers
  • Modern stores still using Playworld fixtures
  • Being an action figure fan working at Playworld
  • Watching GI Joe and Transformers die on the shelves
  • The bitter demise of Kaycee Kangaroo
  • Toystore inventory management in the 1980s
  • Finding '83 Joes and '84 Transformers at Zayre in 1991
  • Storage Wars GI Joe edition
  • Neil Young keeps on rockin' in the Play World
  • Holding the negatives of a 30 year old photograph of Playworld
  • Remembering long lost retail chains
  • Get your Playworld pictures out, people!
  • Imagining the ideal Lionel toystore website
  • Wiliam's project geotracking every Lionel store location ever
  • Risking your life at Dixie Square Mall
  • TRU is the Cthulhu of toystores
  • labelscar
  • On the deathwatch-Palm Beach Mall
  • Last call for Playworld memories!
  • The Kiddie City fan Facebook Page
12 November 1978

27 November 1986

I can still see the scars


william hamby said...

i just listened to every single word of the BEST PODCASTALYPSE ever recorded. this was nice steve. i'm probably going to listen to it again. :) this is THE definative lionel playworld thread....podcast and social remembrance on the web today.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Well thanks! I've listened to it at least half a dozen times because I have to for editing and I've enjoyed every single re-listen of the interview. You have to realize you're the big reason this is fun to listen to. An hour an a half of me talking to myself about Playworld would have gotten boring really quick. I wanted a grand finale to cap it all off in a big way and getting to talk with you delivered that and more. So thanks again because if this show is interesting it's because of you and your stories.

If I have done anything that qualifies as definitive in terms of Playworld fandom then that just means Playworld fandom isn't trying! I know you have the drive and potential to create the ultimate Lionel remembrance site and I'm looking forward to seeing it one day. Because I love crying.

Anonymous said...

This was perhaps your best interview to date my friend. Whoever that guy is, sounded extremely credible when it comes to old toy stores. Although his pronunciation of Caldor was painfully wrong! It's Cal - Door like you said.

Even though Lionel was HQ in Edison, NJ, they actually had almost NO presence in Northern NJ where Rob and I grew up. We had KB, TRU, and of course dumpy Child World. We loved TRU, and they were huge back then. Especially thanks to the Nickelodeon toy run contests.

As for the lack of pictures, well, technically most stores do not allow pictures to be taken, but regardless, who would think to do that back then? I never did. Plus the people who did probably have no idea they have them, and no way of sharing. It's very difficult to share photos these days, because you need to be friends/connected on these social media sites.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Yeah this one was super high on the enthusiasm scale and it's really in the vein of what I imagined my show would be about-talking to a subject matter expert on stuff I loved. I feel like I should have cut out a lot more of my solo part up front and probably made it just about the interview. But then I think my part gives the interview context. You know how it is with editing decisions.

There's so much potential in talking old retail with people. It could be a podcast theme unto itself. I wonder if it already exists.

Anonymous said...

Pompano Playword

Evil King Macrocranios said...

That is a fantastic picture. Thanks a lot for sharing it.

william hamby said...

Great picture.!! Thanks for the share.

E.City said...

I can still remember the one and only Lionel Playworld in El Paso! Now that was a toy store! In my humble opinion, I felt that it was a better toy store than Toys r Us.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I've got the ad for the November 1st, 1985 grand opening of the El Paso store over at this post:

Matthew said...

To who made this site. U can confirm 100 percent that the coral springs Florida location picture is 100 percent the correct location. I was born in March of 86 and loved that store as it was down the street from a ToysRUs. After playworld went in Coral springs a huge catalog store opened up called service merchandise. I was born and raised like 4 mins from this location. From 86 till 2006 when I moved from there.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks, Matthew. I really appreciate you verifying that. It is near impossible for me to find people who remember or care about what buildings in their neighborhood used to be. I live on the other side of the country now but southern Florida is my favorite place I've ever called home. It was so rich with Lionel history and a great place to have been a kid in the 80s and 90s. I miss living in Florida as much as I miss Playworld when I was a kid!

Unknown said...

Just wanted to confirm the lion statues at the Fountains location in Plantation, FL (though I don't remember them being particularly large. Maybe 4 feet tall if that). This was my local store as a child and I remember buying several NES games at this location :) It was such a lovely store and a fantastic area to grow up in. The Toys R Us nearby was also a great store.


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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.