When I was a youngster growing up in the Bronx, I can remember visiting an amusement park that was just over the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. Throughout my youth, mom and dad often took us to Playland Amusement Park in Rye, New York, for a summer evening of family fun, but this place was new. Though our visits to Playland were always after dinner events, our trip to Palisades Amusement Park was a daytime affair. At the age of about six years, I remember the place as being simply wondrous.
Palisades Amusement Park first opened its doors as a trolley park in 1898. The park was located in a grove on the bluffs of New Jersey’s Palisades, overlooking the Hudson River and the northern part of Manhattan to the east. It was first run by the Bergen County Trolley Company as a way to drum up business during the traditionally slow weekends. In its 73 years of existence, Palisades Amusement Park was one of the most visited amusement parks in the country, and was as popular as ever when it came to its demise in 1971.
The earliest incarnations of amusement parks were these trolley parks, which began as recreational areas along street car lines. The trolley parks usually consisted of picnic areas and pavilions, with weekend events like dances and fireworks displays helping to draw the evening and weekend crowds. This trolley park, “The Park on the Palisades”, grew in popularity with each year.
The park was purchased in 1907 by August Neumann, the first mayor of Cliffside Park. New rides and attractions were purchased for the park, now dubbed “Palisades Amusement Park”. Some of the new attractions included a Ferris wheel, a “Baby Parade”, and a diving horse show. The park’s ownership, and name, only lasted for two years, though, being sold upon the death of its general manager, Alvin H. Dexter.
The new owners, brothers Joseph and Nicholas Schenck, renamed the park “Schenck Brother’s Palisades Park.” The brothers added more rides and attractions to the park, including an innovative salt water swimming pool (that pumped its water from the Hudson River) and three roller coasters: “Big Scenic Railway”, “Comet” and “Cyclone.” The park saw great success during the Schencks’ ownership, until the brothers decided to venture into the motion picture business and sold its lease to another set of brothers, Jack and Irving Rosenthal in 1934.
The Rosenthals had been concessionaires at Coney Island and elsewhere before leasing the park from the Schencks for $450,000. These brothers had had previous success in the amusement park industry, building the world famous Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island in 1927. Renaming the park “Palisades Amusement Park” once again, the Rosenthal’s took the park to even greater heights.
During the Rosenthals’ reign, Palisades Park flourished, attracting thousands upon thousands of visitors every year. Its rides and attractions were a big hit with the public, and among the rides were some world class roller coasters, sixteen of them, during its time. The park’s pavilion attracted musical performances by some of the day’s most famous artists, from big-band era greats such as Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, and the Dorsey Brothers in the 40’s to pop sensations of the 50’s and 60,’such as Chubby Checker, Freddy Cannon, Leslie Gore, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Four Seasons and a whole lot more. Palisades Park was a worthy rival to nearby Coney Island throughout its existence.
Ironically, it was the park’s success that eventually helped lead to its demise. In 1967, Jack Rosenthal died of Parkinson’s disease, leaving Irving as the sole owner of the park. Being in his 70’s, Irving was not expected to be able to run the park much longer, and there were no apparent heirs to inherit the business. In the meantime, the multitude of visitors to the popular park had swelled to such numbers that traffic headaches and other problems plagued local residents. Regional officials eventually succumbed to pressure and condemned the park in 1970 under eminent domain and subsequently rezoned it for housing development.
The property was sold in January 1971 to a Texas developer, Winston-Centex Corporation, who promptly leased it back to Rosenthal so the park could operate for one more season. Sadly, Palisades Park closed its gates for the last time in September 1971. The rides were dismantled and sold and the buildings around the park were demolished to make room for high rise condominiums, which still stand on the spot today. Not a trace exists of this magical place that once entertained millions of visitors in its time. All that remain are the memories.
To visit Palisades Park’s Facebook page, click here.
To see photos of Palisades Park, click here.