Innovation..Novelty...the opportunity to see and experience the latest and the greatest the amusement industry has to offer..
Like the Roller Coaster and the American Hot Dog, which made their debut at Coney Island, The People's Playground can also lay claim to introducing the WORLD'S FIRST ENCLOSED AMUSEMENT PARK!
Preface~In the beginning....
Captain Paul Boyton opened Sea Lion Park in 1898 in Coney Island, the first amusement park of it's kind. Guests would ride the famous Shoot The Chutes and the Flip Flap (the world's first looping coaster) and get to see the Captain perform Sea Lion shows along with demonstrations of his own aquatic feats.
The park was a smash hit, and inspired George Tilyou, a local real estate and amusement enterpreneur, to open his own park, the much larger STEEPLECHASE PARK . (more on Steeplechase in a future article)
Meanwhile at the fair...
Buffalo, New York, 1901. At the Pan-American World's Fair that year, showman partners Frederick Thompson and Skip Dundy were riding high on the success of their new show invention, called "Trip to the Moon". It was a 19th century simulator ride in which people traveled to the moon on a large, bat winged airship called Luna, then disembarked the craft on a surreal lunar surface, where moon people gave them slices of green cheese. (!!)
After the fair closed, George Tilyou invited Thompson and Dundy to set up their innovative attraction at Steeplechase Park for the 1902 season.
1902 was one of the rainiest seasons at Coney Island. To this very day, amusement operators at Coney Island dread a rainy weekend, which can truly make or break an operator. "Trip to the Moon" did outstanding ticket sales at Steeplechase, both due to it's uniqueness as well as it's having been an indoor ride. Sea Lion Park, however, went broke. Tilyou, knowing that more amusements and spectacle in greater Coney would surely bring more ticket sales to his own park as well, upped the rent for Trip to the Moon, which encouraged Thompson and Dundy to take a 25 year lease on the Sea Lion Park property from Boyton along with additional acreage south to Surf avenue,and make it their own park. They kept the highly popular Shoot the Chutes and enlarged the lagoon, then built up an incredible park with over 1,000 red and white painted spires, minarets and domes, and 250,000 electric light bulbs. They named the park after the famous Trip To the Moon airship....LUNA!!!
Video of Shoot the Chutes, Luna Park
Part 1- Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park
Luna Park opened on May 16, 1903 at 8:00 pm when the electric lights were turned on to the public for the first time.
By 10:00 pm, the 22 acre park had an attendance of 60,000 people. (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, at 100 acres, has a maximum capacity of 65,000 people on a peak summer day. One can only imagine how packed Luna was on opening night!)
Luna Park's first day, May 17 1903
Photo credit ©Adam Sandy
Video of Luna Park 1903
Luna entrance to "A Trip to the Moon" Shoot the Chutes
Interactive map of Luna Park 1908
1903 1904 1904
In it's early years, the famous entrance to Luna did not have it's signature crescent moons and pinwheels.
photo credit BPL
The centerpiece of Luna Park was its ornate The tower sat at the southern end of
tower. the lagoon.
Fred Thompson updated the park every year. Along with adding more spires, minarets and lightbulbs,
he built a 3 ring circus suspended over the lagoon for the 1904 season.
The Aerial Circus, viewed by 20,000 spectators, included a variety of act including Stickney's equestrians,
Spessardy's bears, the Jennetts balancing act, the breakaway ladder, Bonner the educated horse, Dracula
the aerial contortionist, and of course, elephants.
In keeping with the spirit of Coney Island, Luna Park featured some of the most modern and thrilling
rides of the day, such as the Tickler, the Witching Wave,the Scrambler, the Aerial Swings, the Mountain Torrent, and the Dragon's Gorge(an indoor roller coaster).
The Tickler Helter Skelter slide
Aerial Swings Mountain Torrent
The Scrambler Dragon's Gorge
In 1912, following the disastrous fire that destroyed Dreamland (another chapter for the future) and with Skip Dundy dead 5 years prior, Fred Thompson departed Luna Park.
The new handlers continued to update the park with the latest and greatest mechanical amusement rides the industry had to offer.
Interactive map of Luna Park, 1930
In 1924, Arthur Jarvis took over as Luna's general manager. Jarvis was already well known in Coney Island amusement circles for creating some of the amusement zone's most thrilling roller coasters, most notably the
Giant Racer,( a mammoth dual track racing coaster on Surf Ave and West 10th street that replaced the Loop the Loop and preceded the landmark Cyclone) and the Drop the Dips (the first coaster to feature steep drops and banked turns, a true heart attack machine in it's day). Jarvis relocated Drop the Dips from it's original location at Bowery and w15th street to Luna Park and renamed it "A Trip to the Moon" in honor of Luna's original signature attraction.
He also designed and built the "Mile Sky Chaser" a well known and much loved out and back roller coaster that traveled along the W 12th street side of the park then turned and traveled along the Neptune avenue side)
Other rides new to the time and still popular today in amusement parks and carnivals were the Scrambler and the Tilt a Whirl. Also added was a Mangel's whip ride, a bumper cars, and a Philadelphia Toboggan Carousel. Sea Beach Palace was demolished and replaced with a swimming pool. Also added was a roller skating rink, marionette shows and kiddy rides.
Luna Park repeatedly faced bankruptcy in the 1930's, mainly due to the Great Depression, and profits were very small.
The park's last major boost came in 1941 when it acquired several attractions from the fun zone of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses allowed Luna to bill itself as the 1941 NY World's Fair, but that still did not bring in anything near the profits the park saw in it's prime.
World War II wartime regulations starting in 1942 prohibited the use of Luna's signature bright lights, and the wartime atmosphere kept attendance at a crippling low. Then came the fires, several of them, which destroyed the park piece by piece.
Finally, in the summer of 1944, a massive fire broke out in the bathroom of the Dragon's Gorge coaster that quickly spread through the park. Boyton's Shoot the Chutes and Luna Park's signature 1903 Tower burned and collapsed into
a charred ruin. The only survivor was the Mile Sky Chaser, which operated solo for another year until it too succumbed to fire and burned to the ground. Luna Park was gone, and the property was rezoned for a housing project,
the Luna Park houses, which stand on the site to this very day.
Burning of Luna Park Brooklyn Public Library
The Mile Sky Chaser stands alone after the fire that decimated the once great Luna Park
Brooklyn Public Library
PART 2~ ZAMPERLA'S LUNA PARK
In 2010, premier ride manufacturer Zamperla won the bid to open a new amusement park on the
W10th street property vacated by Astroland two years earlier.
Once again the spirit of Coney Island has awakened, bringing the best and newest amusement
rides to the People's Playground. In honor of the great park that once stood across Surf Avenue,
They named it LUNA PARK!!
Entrance to the new Luna Park, day and night
From the Wonder Wheel Electro Spin
Eclipse Trapeze Air Swing with historical pictures
One of many great old Coney Island pictures featured on the Trapeze ride..
Luna Park HD Video
Award winning video by Jimvid
Zamperla's Tickler, a modern version of the Luna Classic! Even Tilyou is happy!
The Tickler (POV)
Video by Coasterforce
The Brooklyn Flyer
The Brooklyn Flyer (POV)
Video by Coasterforce
Luna Park introduces the AIR RACE
to the world!
"Visitors to a seaside resort are not in the mood for the ordinary , and do not want to encounter the seriousness of their every-day lives, and the keynote of the thing they do demand is change. Everything must be different from ordinary experience. What is presented to them must have life, action, motion, sensation, surprise, shock swiftness, or else comedy."~~Frederick Thompson
Capturing the spirit of what drew the masses to Coney Island a century ago, to see and experience the newest and best in amusement ride technology, Zamperla introduced it's ingenious new ride, the Air Race, to Coney Island and the world during the park's debut season. This incredible ride, modeled after actual air race planes is fast, furious, and offers heart stopping barrel rolls as it's signature feature. (as one who has barnstormed on real biplanes, take my word for it, this is the next best thing to the real deal!)
Me on the Air Race for the first out of 6 times. Gotta Love the Air Race!!!!!
The Air Race in action (off ride)
Video by Coasterforce
The Air Race in action (POV)
Video by Coasterforce
LUNA PARK 1000 Surf Avenue, Coney Island