Take a short ride to a good time rang out the ads for Coney Island‘s Astroland through the latter half of the 20th century. The collection of rides making up the amusement park would flash across the screen, with smiles of endless young couples, giggling children, and entertained-looking parents, all captivated at the collection of new rides.
Their ear-to-ear grins glimmered for Astroland, which opened in 1962 to much ado and fanfare. It was at the height of the US-USSR space race, and during a time of Cold War fear that this magic, space-themed park sprung up on Brooklyn‘s southern shore. For a flat “Pay One Price” fee, visitors of all ages would be thrilled by the likes of the Cyclone, Astrotower, Mercury Capsule Skyride, and Diving Bells.
Business for the park was strong, with millions of happy customers pouring through its sea-misted gates over the five decades Astoland operated. Oversized pretzels, games of skill, and the Astroland rocket, a large, white, missile-looking shell placed atop Gregory and Paul’s Restaurant, welcomed the plethora of happy families coming for a good time.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the rocket, also known as Star Flyer, offered 26 lucky passengers the chance to travel to unbelievable destinations in its 180-second simulated jolt to space. The space simulator thrilled riders at a time when space travel and moon landings were at the forefront of people’s imaginations and the aspiration of the US government. The ride rode the tide of the space craze until its closure in the mid-1970s, at which point the 12,000-pound aluminum hunk was placed above the boardwalk’s Gregory and Paul’s Restaurant. inviting soon-to-be riders into Astroland.
Come 2008, however, the rocket fell back to orbit as the financial realities of the park led to permanent closure. The park was shut down and sold off, no visitors were coming, no astronauts were taking flight, and there were no planets left for conquering — the rocket’s days were numbered.
During a cold January in 2009, the entirety of Astroland was dissolved and trucked away piece by piece, pirate ship by tea cup by water flume. The rocket was stepped to a flatbed and carted off from its five-decade home, The City of New York received the rocket as a donation and left it abandoned in a Staten Island parking lot. The rocket was exposed to the elements and suffered a heavy beating from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
In 2014, sufficient donations and outcry had poured in for the restoration of the rocket, and so the atmosphere- scraping-ride was put back on display alongside the famous Wonder Wheel in Coney Island once again. The Coney Island History Project has maintained the rocket since, keeping it in tip-top shape — should it be needed for a trip to the moon or two.
Now, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the opening of Astroland, the Coney Island History Project is celebrating the installation of a permanent exhibit about Astroland next to the rocket. The history panels harken their readers back to the days of the space race and bring about a sense of closure to this space-age relic of a wildly different era.
The exhibition is free and on view from July 31 through October 30 during park hours. It is located next to Deno’s Wonder Wheel at 1025 Boardwalk, Coney Island, Brooklyn, between the Original Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Restaurant and the New York Aquarium.
Next, check out New York City’s lost amusement parks!