Long before Disneyland, Six Flags and Cedar Fair, there was Coney Island. Located in Brooklyn, New York, Coney Island was home to the largest single amusement area in the United States during its heyday in the early Twentieth Century. After World War II, however, the locale became neglected and fell into disrepair, never again regaining its old glory. On Memorial Day Weekend, 2010, Coney Island returns to its former grandeur as a new renaissance begins.
Luna Park is a brand new amusement park that will open on Saturday, May 29th in Coney Island. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed earlier this year, “Coney Island is coming back big time!”, and from the looks of things, he’s right on the mark.
The new theme park, named after one of the original parks located on Coney Island, attempts to capture the grandeur of the original. With 19 all-new rides and attractions, the entrance to Luna Park will be lined with crescent moons, reminiscent of that once magical place that closed more than sixty-five years ago. New York City officials hope to see the new Luna Park live up to the history of its world-renowned predecessors.
During its height in popularity, Coney Island played host to three major amusement parks: Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland. Each had its own niche along the boardwalk, and each had its own unique history:
The oldest and longest lasting of Coney Island’s amusement parks, Steeplechase Park first opened its gates in 1897. Created by George C. Tilyou, Steeplechase Park is one of the most well-known amusement parks of all time. Featuring the famous Steeplechase horse ride, the park housed a great many fun rides and attractions to be enjoyed by millions of visitors each year. Alongside the gravity-driven horse races, visitors could revel in such rides as the Barrel of Love, the Earthquake Stairway, the Human Roulette Wheel, and countless others.
Steeplechase Park was and still is a model for amusement parks everywhere and was an indelible part of Coney Island’s rich history. One of the main symbols of Coney Island, the grotesque image of a jester, first appeared at Steeplechase Park. Tilyou was one of the first amusement entrepreneurs to come up with a consolidated ticketing system, offering combination tickets of 25 rides for 25 cents. What a bargain! Steeplechase endured through periods of hardship, especially after three fires that damaged the park in 1907, 1936 and 1939, but eventually closed its gates forever due to poor attendance in 1964.
The original Luna Park first opened to the public in 1903. It was created by amusement visionaries Frederic Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy, who had leased the site of an older park, Sea Lion Park. The park was famously decorated with grand architecture and plenty of electric lights, which was still a novelty at the time. Among the rides and attractions featured at Luna Park were Shoot the Chutes, the Dragon’s Gorge, and Helter Skelter. One of the most popular rides was A Trip to the Moon, which featured a winged spacecraft named “Luna” (or moon in Latin).
Domesticated elephants once roamed the pathways of the park, that is until one of them had to be executed for being a threat. “Topsy “had killed three people in as many years and was deemed to dangerous to continue on. The elephant was famously electrocuted by Thomas Edison’s alternating current, which had been used in the human execution contraption, the electric chair. Approximately 1,500 people witnessed the event, which was filmed by Edison, and many more bore witness through the film. On July 20, 2003, a memorial to Topsy was erected on the site.
Two fires occurred at the site in 1944 and Luna Park was never rebuilt.
Dreamland was opened in 1904 as a destination for upscale entertainment. Like Luna Park, this amusement facility was decorated with fancy architecture, gleaming white towers and brilliant electric lights. The park featured many rides and attractions including a train that passed through the Swiss mountains, a “Lilliputian Village” with over 300 tiny residents, Venetian canals complete with gondolas, and a firefighting demonstration that was innovative for its time.
Unable to compete with the popularity of Luna Park, Dreamland closed its gates after a terrible fire destroyed much of its infrastructure in 1911.
Shortly before the closing of Steeplechase Park in 1964, Astroland opened as a “space-age” theme park in 1962. For more than 40 years, Astroland entertained whole new generations of theme park enthusiasts with such rides as Dante’s Inferno, the Paratrooper, and the world-famous landmark roller coaster the Cyclone. Astroland never really caught on as big as its predecessors and finally closed its gates in 2008 to make way for the construction of the new Luna Park.
The New Luna Park
The new amusement park will be jointly operated by Central Amusement International (CAI) and Italian ride manufacturer Zamperla. Among the new rides featured at the new Luna Park include a new roller coaster and a giant pendulum that swings riders 60 feet into the air. Other new rides include The Tickler, a spinning, twisting and turning ride modeled after an original Luna Park attraction, Surf’s Up, where riders balance on a surfboard riding a 90-foot wave, and The Air Race, a spinning, flipping barrel role of a ride.
Coney Island mainstays the Cyclone and Deano’s Wonder Wheel, both designated landmark status by the city will remain open under the operation of its owners. World famous Nathan’s, a fast food innovator, will continue to deliver its great hot dogs and French fries!
The new Luna Park opens Memorial Day Weekend in Coney Island and is only the first step in regaining the area’s recognition as a world-renowned center for amusement entertainment. Another theme park, Scream Zone, will open in 2011, and things only get better from there. So here’s to a successful opening for the new Luna Park and hopes for a bright future for all of Coney Island.