Tag Archives: luna park

Luna Park (CAI)

The park has a nice collection of attractions.

Whenever people discuss Coney Island’s history they seem to speak of it in two terms- before and after Steeplechase Park closed.  When the park, by all rights an American institution, shuttered to little fanfare in the fall of 1964 it cast a shadow over the Island from which it never quite recovered.  With time the fortunes of the area at the foot of Brooklyn ebbed and flowed, but there was never a clear, new direction.  Some efforts were made to kick start projects, such as Horace Bullard, the fried chicken king who had beautiful concept art but little foresight or financing, and Thor Equities, run by developer Joe Sitt, who only seemed interested in making Coney little more than the malls that dot the Garden State next door.  Things looked extremely grim when Astroland Amusement Park closed in 2008, leaving Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park as the only facility at Coney Island that offered rides for everyone in the family.


Vestiges of old Coney Island are all around the new Luna Park

The city had been watching Coney Island for some time and had made significant investments in the area.  KeySpan Park, home of the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones, was added in 2001.  That same year a 3-year construction project began in the run-down Stillwell Avenue station, which was under the prevue of the MTA and decades overdue.  Then resulting structure was a beautiful piece of architecture that combined the old and the new.  The city’s investment was matched by sweat equity and perseverance by groups like Coney Island U.S.A., which began operating Sideshows by the Seashore and other art gatherings in the 1980’s, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, which had been an island mainstay for decades.  However, all of these things together could not provide a tipping point and show Coney the light at the end of the tunnel.

Coney Island’s biggest supporter, and some might say savior, was not a developer or dreamer, but the City of New York, specifically the Bloomberg administration.  While the city certainly had a history of bad decisions, they pursued new goals for Coney.  Mayor Bloomberg and the team at the New York Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) saw the area as a key economic corridor needing growth.  In 2003 they formed the Coney Island Development Corporation and on November 13, 2009 issued an RFP for redevelopment of the area, and received several responses.  On February 16, 2010 they awarded the operation of a new amusement park, Luna Park, to Central Amusements International.  The company, a sister of ride manufacturer Zamperla, pledged to invest $30 million over the life of their ten-year contract.  The city committed to invest $6.6 million into the area for infrastructure upgrades.

The Disc-O, Vertical Swing and Family Swinger on a warm summer day.

With the contract to Central Amusements being awarded so late in winter there was obviously a lot of work to be done.  The former Astroland site, located at Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, was torn apart and an entirely new set of water, sewer, and conduit lines were laid.  After that, the ride work began; it was a mad dash to open.  On a time-lapse construction video provided by the NYCEDC[1] asphalt does not appear at the site until less than a week before opening.  Even though the majority of the rides were trailer-mounted or on base frames, the sheer amount of work that went on in such a small amount of space was astounding.  Every day between February and Memorial Day workers were seen scurrying around the unfinished park.[2]  In April Valerio Ferrari, Central Amusements’ CEO, told the New York Daily News, “We’re working in three shifts, around the clock, 24/7.”[3]

Nineteen rides were brought to Luna Park, all of them except the Reverchon flume (also the only non-Zamperla ride), were new.  For coaster lovers there was the “Tickler”, a Zamperla Twister Coaster, and the “Circus Coaster”, a Family Coaster.  The company debuted a combination of family and thrill rides, the most notable being the Air Race, which held 24 guests and offered an upside down flat ride experience that is unmatched.

After a busy spring Luna Park opened to much fanfare.  At the opening day events on May 28, 2010 Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “Around the world, Coney Island is one of the most famous and beloved neighborhoods, largely because of its storied amusement traditions, but decades of disinvestment and neglect allowed the amusement district to shrink to a shell of its former glory.  Today we’re reversing a trend, Luna Park will provide Coney Islanders, Broolynites, all New Yorkers and visitors from around the globe a world-class amusement destination, and it marks a major step in the long-term revitalization of the area.”[4]

The Air Race garners a lot of attention.

The new property took not only the name from the famed amusement park that once stood on the north side of Surf Avenue; it also took Elmer “Skip” Dundy and Frederick Thompson’s pension for lights and showmanship.  The new Luna Park was ride-oriented, but it still had every attraction decked out in light packages that could be seen from anywhere on Surf Avenue.  One of the best tributes to the past the park made was its new entrance, which utilized the famed half moons and pinwheels that made up the old Luna Park gateway.

The great experiment at Coney Island has been dubbed a success by almost everyone.  There are the few who carp that the amusement area is not large enough or it was not done correctly.  However, the vast majority of those who make their living or have their fun at Coney Island believe that everything came off perfectly.  Getting Luna Park open in a matter of months was a miracle in itself, and the fact that Coney Island had one of its busiest summers in decades fosters hope that the area has finally turned a page and its best days are once again ahead of it.  When asked about why the “new” Coney was such a success Dick Zigun, head of Coney Island U.S.A., said, “I think it’s the rezoning and the hubbub and people realizing Coney Island isn’t going to be totally torn down for condos and doctors offices.  I think it’s people realizing Coney Island is here to stay and it’s just going to get better and better.”[5]   George C. Tilyou once said that, “Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.”  Hopefully it will one day again approach that pinnacle of greatness.

This article originally appeared in”RollerCoaster!” magazine.

[1] The video is available on the NYCEDC’s youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYd30tlUfCc .

[2] Jim McDonnell, a fan of Coney Island, provided a lot of great photos of the park’s construction on his photo site, http://jimvid.smugmug.com .

[3]Durkin, Erin.  “Coney Island’s new Luna Park, modeled after original, will debut 19 thrilling rides on May 29.”  The New York Daily News.  May 29, 2010.

[4] The City of New York.  “Mayor Bloomberg and Central Amusement International Celebrate the Opening Weekend of Luna Park at Coney Island.” May 28, 2010.

[5] Chaban, Matt.  “Luna Park 2.0 Brings Zillions Back to Coney Island.  New York Observer.  September 16, 2010.

Luna Park

Luna Park was a wonderland unlike anything the world has seen before or since.  It was the brainchild of Elmer “Skip” Dundy and Frederic Thompson.  According to the documentary “Coney Island” Dundy had sold the bankrupt Union Pacific railroad and Frederick Thompson was an architect with a drinking problem.  Together this unusual duo created a ride called “A Trip to the Moon” and exhibited it at the 1901 Pan-American International Exposition.  George C. Tilyou saw the ride there and told the pair to bring their “Trip to the Moon” with them to Steeplechase Park.  After the 1902 season Tilyou asked for a larger cut of the ride’s profits, which prompted Thompson and Dundy to consider buying their own park.  They purchased Captain Paul Boyton’s Sea Lion Park, a “ramshackle cluster of attractions.”  The pair tore everything but the Shoot-the-Chutes down as a new style of amusement park was built over the winter of 1902-1903.  On May 16, 1903 Luna Park opened at night.  The legend has it that the duo had so little money they combed the beach for change for the ticket takers.  As Albert Bigelow Paine said in 1904’s “Century Magazine”, “A long festoon of electric light leaped from one side of the park to the other, and was followed by a second and a third.  Then there was a perfect maze of them.  Tall towers that had grown dim suddenly broke forth in electric outlines and gay rosettes of color, as the living spark of light traveled hither and thither, until the place was transformed into an enchanted garden, of such Aladdin never dreamed.”

The good times did not last long.  In February, 1907 Elmer Dundy died and Thompson was set a adrift.  Five years later he went bankrupt and the bank took Luna from Thompson.  Although the park was fun after he left all of the creativity was gone.  Luna, under the direction of investors and money men, operated until 1944.  Fires that year caused the park to limp through the end of the season and it remained closed throughout 1945.  The next year the park was closed and sold to a group that demolished it.  An undignified end to a beautiful play land.

Luna Park: The Front Gate

Luna Park- Front GateLuna Park- Surf Avenue







This was the original gate to Luna Park.  The heart says “The Heart of Coney Island.”  The entrance, like most parks on Coney, was directly on Surf Avenue.  It is sad that a furniture store now occupies the site of this magnificent park.  (Photo on the left Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

Luna Park- Surf Avenue






The park’s entrance was altered for the 1905 season.  The main square entrance was still there, but it was surrounded by red & white wheels and crescents.

Luna Park






A shot of Surf Avenue and Luna Park during the 1920’s.  The park was not named after the moon (although Thompson and Dundy used that iconography a lot), but after Dundy’s sister in New Jersey.

Luna Park






“About 45,000 men, women and children strolling along Surf Avenue stopped and rubbed their eyes and stood in wonder and pinched themselves to see if there was not something wrong somewhere.  The Coney Island visitor does not expect much variety in the attractions gathered at the great breathing space by the sea, here was a strange sight at Coney Island.  Yawning on the dingy old pleasure thoroughfare was a monster arch, covering half a city block.  The interior of this arch was a solid mass of electric lights and rising many feet into the air were four monster monoliths, traced in electric lights surmounted by great balls of fire, which shed light over the island.” The New York Times May 17, 1903

Luna Park: The Promenades


Luna Park- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1909Luna Park- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1908


These two photos look different ways down the main throughway of Luna.  The left photo looks towards the park’s entrance and the right photo looks into the park.  At the end of this walkway the park opened up into a large area surrounded by restaurants and in the middle stood the Electric Tower.  My favorite part of both of these photos are the fish that stand along the promenades.  The ride shown in each postcard, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was a cyclorama that depicted a submarine trip to the North Pole.  Much like the Trip to the Moon, 20,000 leagues featured riders getting in a craft, enjoying the trip to the destination and then disembarking to see the “frigid” town.  The ride was replaced by the Dragon’s Gorge for the 1905 season.

Luna Park- Promenade, 1914






What a beautiful scene at Luna!  In an article entitled “The Summer Show” Thompson said, “When a stranger arrives at Coney Island, the great headquarters of summer shows, the first thing that impresses him is change- difference.  His eyes tell him that he is in a different world- a dream world, perhaps a nightmare world- where all is bizarre and fantastic- crazier than the craziest part of Paris- gayer and more different from everyday world.” [The Independent: June 20, 1907]

Luna Park


Luna Park: Inside the Park

Luna Park- Circle Swing









The Circle Swing at Luna Park (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress).

Luna Park- LagoonLuna Park- Tower, 1906





The architecture at Luna was a hodge-podge of styles and one of the most recognizable structures within the park was the Electric Tower. At the tower’s base were four fish fountains where water cascaded down stairs into small pools. In the photo on the left the fish have been removed and replaced with a doorway, perhaps an elevator was installed to take waiting guests up in the tower.

Luna Park- Helter Skelter






This photo shows another restaurant and the Helter Skelter.  It shows how detailed the park was and what care Thompson put into Luna when he designed it. He said, “Buildings can laugh quite as loudly as human beings. A beautiful but excited sky-line is more important in an exposition than the correct demonstration of any man’s recollection of the fine points of Sir Christopher Wren’s handiwork!”

Luna Park- Main Lagoon

Luna Park- Main Lagoon







Frederick Thompson put great care into the park.  Click on the left photo and look at the great detail along the promenade.  The fir trees, the flags and all the lights all combined to make a modern-day fairyland.  Working left to right in the second photo we see the windmill (tucked in the back), the Electric Tower and  the centennial tower & the front gate (in the distance).  All of the employees that it must have taken to fill the individual stands is staggering by today’s standards.

Luna Park- Gyroplane






The Gyroplane was an early version of the modern day flat ride. This attraction featured some unique visuals and was set out in the middle of the midway so there were almost as many spectators as riders.

Luna Park- The Pit Fun House






According to historian Jeffery Stanton (http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/articles/lunapark.htm) the Pit was the result of a funhouse refurbishment.  It cost $100,00 for the renovation and it was marketed as “A kaleidoscope of fun”.


Luna Park: Luna By Night

Luna Park







This view shows the lagoon with the circus in place.  Edwin E. Slosson wrote in “The Independent” magazine, “Now, line by line, as we watch in the twilight, as if lit by an unseen taper, as if drawn by the architect on the darkness by a pen of fire, the building slowly appears, until with a final flash it stands like a glorified ghost of itself in the night.” [July 21, 1904]  (Photos courtesy the Library of Congress)

Luna Park- Lagoon from Chutes Luna Park- 1906





These two views are from the top of the shoot-the-chutes.  The left postcard is the more accurate of the two, although the American flags were often added by the card’s artist.  When it opened in 1903 Luna Park featured 250,000 lights and 100,000 of those were on the Electric tower.

Luna Park- Dragons Gorge, 1909Luna Park- Midway Night, 1922





The left photo shows the Dragon’s Gorge and the main gate is visible in the distance.  The photo on the right is another view of Luna, this time closer to the entrance.  The park at night was amazing.  Russian writer Maxim Gorky said, “With the advent of night a fantastic city all of fire suddenly rises from the ocean into the sky.  Thousands of ruddy sparks glimmer in the darkness, limning in fine sensitive outline on the black background of the sky, shapely towers of miraculous castles, palaces and temples.  Golden gossamer threads tremble in the air.  They intertwine in transparent, flaming patterns, which flutter and melt away in love with their own beauty mirrored in the waters.  Fabulous beyond conceiving, ineffably beautiful, is this fiery scintillation.” [The Independent: August 8, 1907]


Luna Park- Honeymoon Express






The Honeymoon Express ran from 1914 to 1927.  It was a train ride with small railroad-style Pullman cars that circled the Shoot-the-Chutes lagoon.

Luna Park- Restaurant Boxes, 1908






The restaurant boxes along the promenade at night.

Luna Park- 1922






Luna Park at night was a wonderland that had no equals.

Luna ParkLuna Park





Luna Park

Luna Park: Animals


Luna Park- Camel







Luna Park offered rides on the came. In “Munsey’s Magazine” Guy Wetmore Carryl wrote, “Oh, that camel! Once the ship of the desert, decked in gaudy trappings and bearing his Arab master at breakneck speed across a sea of sand: what a derelict for any one to mount upon he is now become! The long, laborious course from Wara to Mourzouk has dwindled to a bare half hundred yards, but these he traverses as many times a day, rising and crouching again with protesting snorts, a sneer on his long lower lip, and a resentful gleam in his formerly patient eyes. He knows, though we do not, the proper way in which to mount and descend, and he has yet to see it exemplified at Coney Island.” (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

Luna Park- ElephantLuna Park- Elephants, 1905

Thompson & Dundy’s herd of elephants roamed through Luna Park and some were used for rides. Thompson loved the animals and used several of them to help build the park. I do not know if either of the elephants pictured here are the ill-fated Topsy. (Photo on the left courtesy the Library of Congress).

Luna Park- CircusLuna Park- Circus, 1912






Although Thompson controlled most of the creative concepts in the park, Dundy made one important request- Luna must have a circus.  The elephants and their keepers were found performing in above the lagoon daily.  Many said it added to the unique, childlike feel that Luna had.  (Left photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

Luna Park: The Rides


Luna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes






The Shoot-the-Chutes was the only thing that Thompson and Dundy salvaged from Sea Lion Park.  The ride was simple, a boat was hauled up to the top of the hill, turned around and then splashed downinto the lagoon.

Luna Park-Shoot-the-ChutesLuna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes





The postcard on the left shows the lift and drop of the Shoot the Chutes.  The boat splashed down through the tunnel and out into the lake. After the boat slowed the operator steered it over to the dock where the happy Victorian passengers disembarked.

Luna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes, 1909






This is a great rendering of the ride by nightfall.  Notice the large amount of space between the two “drop” tracks.

Luna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes

Luna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes







Luna Park- Shoot-the-ChutesLuna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes






Luna Park- Shoot-the-Chutes


These fantastic pictures from the Library of Congress show some unique views of the Shoot-the-Chutes. For an amusement park ride of the day it really was a thrilling attraction.

Luna Park- Dragon's Gorge, 1909

Luna Park- Dragon's Gorge






Luna Park- Dragon's Gorge





The Dragon’s Gorge opened in 1905 and was designed by LaMarcus Thompson and John Miller.  There was a large waterfall within the ride’s entrance and the exquisite detail amazed its many riders.  The coaster remained a popular fixture within the park until 1944 when it burned.

Luna Park- Helter Skelter, 1906






The Helter Skelter may not be exciting by today’s standards, but for the Victorian women it was quite a thrill to “let loose” down the slide.  Elmer Blaney Harris wrote in “Munsey’s Magazine”, “The descent itself is about fifty feet, with high side, like a bathtub, and it twists and turns suddenly, a man standing guard at the bottom to pick up passengers.”

Luna Park- Teaser







The Teaser.  There is not much information on this ride.  It looked like it was essentially many individual seats group and put onto a spinning platform.  (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress)