8. Rockaway’s Playland (1902-1987)
Rockaway’s Playland in Queens was one of New York City’s longest-running amusement parks, open from 1902 to 1987. Rockaway’s Playland was created in 1902 by roller coaster designer LaMarcus Adna Thompson and reached its peak under A. Joseph Geist om 1928. At the time of the park’s opening, is was known simply as Thompson’s Amusement Park, operating as one of several amusement destinations along Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk. A nearby ferry dock allowed visitors from other boroughs to more easily access Thompson’s Amusement Park. The park was operated by Thompson’s family after his death for eight years, and it was then sold to Robert Katlin in 1927, who opened new facilities like a gymnasium and swimming pool.
The park gained the name “Playland” in 1928 after it was bought by A. Joseph Geist, a Queens lawyer who led the park’s expansion that added a dance hall, roller coaster, and menagerie. Robert Moses, as with many other amusement parks, shut down the amusement area in 1937 to build the Shore Front Parkway, and Geist lost half of his rides. Playland reopened in 1939 following a several million-dollar rebuilding program, yet the park struggled to gain revenue as World War II led to a wartime blackout in the area. 1949 saw the construction of Joytime, a kiddie park, and a modernization program that added new lighting systems. Playland’s popularity grew tremendously in the 1950s, as transportation to Rockaway Beach became significantly easier and as Playland began hosting contests like beauty pageants and children’s contests. Despite decreased attendance in 1964 due to the New York World’s Fair, the park quickly saw a rise in turnout for the next few years. Geist passed away in 1960, yet his son Richard took over control and kept the park alive for the next two-and-a-half decades. The park began to decline by the mid-1970s as many of the rides were dated, and the park closed after insurance premiums increased eightfold.