Summer is (Almost) Here: What about Playland?
11 Jun, 2014
By Peter Moses
The Bronx used to be home to Freedomland, an amusement park located where Co-op City and the Bay Plaza Shopping Plaza now stand. Despite a great song and an enormous salt water wave pool, Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee and Cliffside Park, New Jersey, which opened in 1898, is now a bunch of high rises. They were privately owned parks and the owners of both facilities closed because the market couldn’t support them.
Things are a little different here in Westchester.
Those of us who have called the county home for most of our lives have fond memories of summer days and nights at the county’s best known fun place, Rye Playland. But that sentiment doesn’t seem to ring true today as over two-thirds of people who flock to the Dragon Coaster and other rides at the iconic playground on the shores of the Long Island Sound are not from Westchester.
But beyond the nostalgia, taxpayers subsidize the amusement park, losing anywhere from $3 to $5 million annually, according to records kept by the county, which has owned the park since its inception. Losses have been consistent for years and it has become a hot-button issue for local and area politicians. Questions abound about the future of Playland, who should operate it and what should it look like going forward.
Playland came to be because people in Rye and nearby communities were concerned about the type of people coming to the existing Rye Beach and Paradise Park facilities so the Westchester County Park Association purchased the properties and et voila, Playland was born. The Boardwalk was part of the original Art Deco design.
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The park opened in May, 1928, and by the next year the anchor ride, the vaunted Dragon Coaster opened, thrilling daredevils with its 85-foot drop and twist and turns. It was actually preceded by the Kiddie Coaster which first strapped in kids in 1928. The Boardwalk was part of the original plan and the Ice Casino, which used to be home to the New York Rangers as a practice facility, flung open its doors in 1929.
The “Grand Carousel,” is considered one of the nation’s gems, a 1915 Mangels-Carmel model with 48 jumpers, 18 standers and three chariots. The entire park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
County Executive and now Republican candidate for New York State Governor Rob Astorino, agreed to a plan crafted by a local grassroots organization called Sustainable Playland that would turn Playland into a park with fewer amusements, more parkland and a field house for lacrosse and soccer plus three other outdoor athletic fields. The Ice Casino would be refurbished and Playland would be turned into a year-round destination and extend the amusement park’s season as well.
Then came the usual noise in the form of lawsuits by members of the County Legislature and pushback from Rye Mayor Joe Sack, both demanding veto power over any changes in Playland. The County claims it has sole jurisdiction about the future of Playland. For a time, Sustainable Playland pulled out of the talks because of all the infighting but recently came back to the table.
It remains unclear what will happen in the future at one of America’s oldest amusements, home to one of only 100 wooden roller coasters. It’s clear county voters and legislators are weary about continuing to foot the bill for Playland and its future is a large question mark.
Loop readers, what say you? How would you like to see this ongoing debate resolved?
photo: June Marie Sobrito