Playland Amusement Park
Ferris wheel at Playland
|Nearest city||New York City|
|Area||280 acres (1.1 km²)|
|Architect||Frank Darling; Walker & Gillette|
|Architectural style||Turn-of-the-20th century revival, Art Deco, other|
|NRHP reference #||80004529|
|Added to NRHP||July 4, 1980|
|Designated NHL||February 27, 1987 |
Playland, often called Rye Playland and also known as Playland Amusement Park, is an amusement park located in Rye, New York. It is owned by Westchester County. Beginning with the 2018 season, Standard Amusements LLC has been contracted to operate the park.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Playland's waterfront area of Westchester County along the Long Island Sound was the site of a growing collection of recreational developments, including hotels, resorts, and "amusement areas". Local residents concerned about what a county report described as "unsavory crowds" induced the Westchester County Park Association to purchase two existing theme parks, Rye Beach and Paradise Park, and planned a local-government-sponsored amusement park in their stead.
Frank Darling, a veteran park manager with experience at Coney Island and the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, was hired to design and run the new park, called Playland. The well-known NYC architectural firm Walker & Gillette and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke were commissioned to produce a comprehensive design of both buildings and grounds, making Playland the first planned amusement park in the country. Their asymmetrical beaux arts plan integrated Playland's three major components. The first component, a swimming park, is defined by a semi-elliptical beach, boardwalk, and arcade. At the center of this arcade, a Spanish Revival bathhouse and pool terminates the automobile approach along Playland Parkway and its twin towers frame a view of Long Island Sound. The second component, an amusement park, is laid out along an axial landscaped mall at roughly 90 degrees to the Parkway approach. An entrance plaza with central fountain at the beach end of this axis is defined by corner pavilions and anchored by a casino and ice rink building. The axial mall is flanked by colonnades which serve to visually organize the various rides, games, and restaurants on each outboard side. A midway cross-axis terminates in a gate at the large parking lot on its inland end and at a promontory at its waterside end. The main axis terminates in a 100 foot tall Music Tower that now has a performance stage at its base. All original amusement park buildings are in an Art Deco style. The third component, a boating lake, lies beyond the tower. Its boathouse consists of two pavilions symmetrically flanking a central colonnade, facing a terrace and boat dock and the lake. Construction commenced in September 1927 and was completed in six months. The park began operation on May 26, 1928.
Built in 1929, the Dragon Coaster serves as the park's mascot and appears in the Playland logo. The Dragon Coaster is one of roughly 100 wooden roller coasters still in operation in the United States.
The "Ice Casino", built in 1929, originally contained a main ice rink as well as a full dance floor on the second floor that functioned as a dance hall through the 1940s and '50s. It also had a full service fine-dining restaurant and an outdoor café. It had smaller dining rooms upstairs for upscale private dinners. A renovation in the 1970s added a kiddie rink as well as a mid-sized ice rink. A renovation to the main ice rink that included a new surface, boards and glass was completed in 2007 for the Empire State Games.
Playland is home to the "Grand Carousel", a 1915 Mangels-Carmel carousel. It has four rows with 48 jumpers, 18 standers and three chariots. It was originally in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved to Playland when the park opened in 1927. The Grand Carousel has a rare band organ built by the Gavioli company in Italy. The organ enclosure features two male figures that strike bells in time to the music while the central female figure moves a baton. The Grand Carousel contains designs including those on the horses that are completely hand-carved and painted by Charles Carmel from Brooklyn, New York. The horses possess many unique traits that include elaborate "fish scale" blankets, inlaid gemstones, armor and lolling tongues on several.
Playland is also home to one of only three "Derby Racers" still in existence. The Derby Racer was built in 1927 for Playland by Prior & Church with horses carved by Marcus Charles Illions, a turn of the century New York carousel horse carver. The Derby Racer rotates at 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) - three times the speed of a normal carousel. The horses move back and forth as well as up and down, simulating a true gallop as it races around the track. The other "Derby Racers" are located at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio; and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, in Blackpool, Lancashire, United Kingdom.
The Dragon Coaster, Playland Amusement Park's iconic attraction, is a wooden roller coaster which was opened in 1929. Designed and built by amusement ride creator Frederick A. Church (also the co-inventor of the Derby Racer), the Dragon Coaster has approximately 3,400 feet (1,000 m) of track and is approximately 85 feet (26 m) tall at its highest point. It has a tunnel along its span, a common feature of wooden roller coasters from the 1920s. The tunnel resembles the body of a dragon, and the opening of the tunnel resembles a dragon's mouth. The dragon has eyes that light up, and it blows steam from its nostrils. Playland Park removed the classic Prior and Church trains in 1989 and replaced them with Morgan trains because the P.T.C.s did not have up-to-date safety technology such as lap bars and other items. The Dragon Coaster is still in operation to this day and is classified as one of the park's seven "classic" rides, along with The Whip and Ye Olde Mill (an indoor dark boat ride involving gnomes).
In 1927, construction began on the Airplane Coaster, overseen by Frank W. Darling. It was originally thought that the Traver Engineering Company had been responsible for the construction of this ride; however, in 1983 the original blueprints, signed by Fred Church, were discovered in an attic at the park, disproving the Traver Company misconception. Known originally as "Airplane Dips", its name was changed to "Aero-coaster" and then finally to "Airplane Coaster". The ride was dismantled in 1957.
In 1966, a major fire at the amusement park claimed some of Rye Playland's all-time classic attractions, including the original Bumper Car ride and the "Magic Carpet" Funhouse.
The latest coaster to be installed is "Super Flight", in which the rider lies on his or her stomach, in a caged car with three other people, all in a single row. Cars are released one at a time, allowing multiple cars to be at different spots on the coaster at the same time. The coaster contains two 360 degree turns, giving the riders a zero-gravity experience.
Until the beginning of the 2002-2003 National Hockey League season, the New York Rangers team practiced at the Playland Ice Casino. Currently, the hockey team from Manhattanville College, located in nearby Purchase, New York, plays its home games at Playland.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy claimed parts of Rye Playland's boardwalk, flooded and caused substantial damage to the Ice Casino, and scattered debris throughout Read Sanctuary.
In May 2016, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted 13-4 to give control of the park to a management company called Standard Amusements. Standard Amusements agreed to invest $27.5 million into the park, which it will manage for 30 years. Westchester County maintains ownership of the park, and will receive an annual base rent and 8% of the park's profits after Standard Amusements recoups its initial investment.
Playland features entertainment performances on its main stage on the north side of the park towards Manursing Lake. 2006 included the dance show Oh-Zone as well as Magic and Spice featuring magician Brendon Yancey. In 2007, it had New York Nights and Shakin' at the "High School Hop", a Grease-style performance. In 2008, dance shows included I Hear America Singing, a mix of new pop songs, and Summer Cruisin, a mish-mash of 1950s and 1960s music.
There is also strolling entertainment including kids dance and singing shows, costumed characters and drum acts that occur multiple times a day.
Playland offers fireworks on Friday nights.
Playland features a free concert series every summer that is sponsored by tri-state radio stations, Pepsi, CulinArt, Manhattan Beer Distributors, Westchester County and the Westchester County Parks Department. The free concerts are usually on Thursdays and Fridays in July and August.
In 2008, four free concerts were scheduled at Rye Playland. On May 24 the new Menudo performed. On July 18 Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, George Lamond, Kim Sozzi and DJ Serg performed. On August 7, second runner up on American Idol Elliott Yamin performed. Finally, on August 14, British pop star Natasha Bedingfield performed to a capacity crowd despite the rainy weather.
In 2010, Shontelle performed for a very large, young crowd on August 4, 2010.
Past free concerts at the park include Joan Jett, Lifehouse, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, Daniel Bedingfield, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and Cheap Trick in 2004. Additionally around 2010 popular 80's artists such as Pat Benatar and Flock of Seagulls.
The Westchester County Police provide security throughout the year, but the park is only officer-patrolled on a 24-hour basis from April to October. In addition to county police, the park employs seasonal park rangers. Playland has its own EMTs, but paramedic and ambulance services are provided through Port Chester-Rye-Rye Brook Emergency Medical Service. Westchester County Police also provides policing services throughout the off-season. The Rye Fire Department handles all fire and rescue calls at Playland.
As of July 2017, there are five roller coasters at Playland: