PLAYLAND REMAINS

by Kevin Walsh

Rockaway Playland, the Rockaway Peninsula’s answer to Coney Island, was in business between 1928 (as an amusement park in the classic sense; various amusement parks had operated at Rockaway Beach Boulevard, the boardwalk and Beach 98th Street since 1902) and the early 1980s. The roller coaster, named the Atom Smasher after World War II, was featured in the movie This Is Cinerama in 1952. The photos, from Old Queens, NY in Early Photographs by Vincent Seyfried and William Asedorian (Dover) show Playland at its peak in the 1940s and 1950s. Playland was located between Rockaway Beach Boulevard, the boardwalk and Beach 97th and 98th Streets.

I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more about Rockaway Playland; as a Bay Ridgeite as a kid, Coney Island and its amusements was the official playground of my youth; once a month in the summer, we’d ride the B64 bus down 86th Street, Bath Avenue, etc. to the last stop.

However, I did nearly encounter it as a 24-year old in 1982. My pals from school had the use of one of the bungalows on one of the Beach side streets in the 90s in June 1982 and while I wasn’t one of the renters, I would come down and hang out with or without my then- girlfriend on the weekends. It was a heckuva trip down there from Bay Ridge, compounded by my night job at Photo-Lettering that had me working till daybreak. I must have traveled on no sleep to get there on some of the Saturdays. One of my memories is distinct. It was one of the coldest, rainiest Junes we ever had and my seasonal allergies kicked up and I was sniffling and sneezing “to beat the band,” and a roommate reacted quite vocally, wanting to get to sleep. I gave him a $20 on the stipulation that he stop complaining, and then swallowed half a glass of whisky to knock myself out.

Otherwise, we all hung out on the beach, weather permitting, as a rule. One night it was movie night and we went to a long-vanished theater. The offering? Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. We roared all through the picture. I never did get into Playland, which remained in business until 1986!

Playland, bungalows, and theater are all gone.

All traces of Playland are not gone as the Beach 98th Street A train stop still carries the name. The A train on the peninsula has an odd lineage. In the 1800s, an at-grade railroad was built that the Long Island Rail Road took over. In 1942, the grade crossings were eliminated as the trains were placed on an elevated encased in concrete. That arrangement lasted just 8 years as the railroad trestle crossing Jamaica Bay burned down. The LIRR sold the route to the city in 1950, and in 1956 new trackways and trestles were built to permit the A train to cross the bay and run on the peninsula.

At Beach 98th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard a bar uses MTA iconography, which is surprising given the MTA’s usual litigiousness.

Housing constructed in the 1990s (handsome by peninsula standards) replaced the old amusement park.

In this 1938 photo, a huge sign on the SE corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 95th Street points the way to Playland. A 5-story assisted living center occupies this space at present.

Perhaps one day I’ll return to Rockaway and live there!

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

6/10/20

23 comments

Andy Koeppel June 10, 2020 - 11:42 pm

Just as a point of information, when the rail trestle shut down LIRR trains across Jamaica Bay to the Rockaway Peninsula in 1950, the LIRR continued to serve the area by running trains from Valley Stream to Beach 116th St. along the Far
Rockaway line until NYC completed the new trestle across the bay in about 1956.

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Joe Heinz June 10, 2020 - 11:50 pm

Late 50’s, early 60’s Aunt Gladys would take us to Neponsit every day during the summer. Frequently the day ended with a session on the bumper cars at Playland. Fond memories.

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Nunzio June 11, 2020 - 12:46 am

Kevin, with a name like Walsh, half a glass of whiskey knocked you out?! 😀

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Anonymous June 11, 2020 - 9:28 am

good article

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Anonymous June 11, 2020 - 10:43 am

Great pics thanks for,posting. Lots of memories. The bar on the corner used to be an Irish gin mill called Mann’s and XXX?. Some relation to the McGuire ‘s of basketball fame. I remember watching the big college game there between UCLA And U of Houston? Elvin Hayes vs Kareem!

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Anthony Canning June 11, 2020 - 1:23 pm

Thanks for the memories of the Playland that I grew up with. My parents used to bring all 12 of us Canning children to beach 98th street on Wednesday afternoon to stay and watch the fireworks show at 9:00pm. The last time I saw Playland open was on June 30th 1975 while walking foot patrol as an NYPD officer in the 100th precinct. That was the night that mayor Beame instituted the layoff of 5,600 officers. Six weeks later I took my wife and children to Phoenix Arizona for a two week vacation. I was hired during this vacation by the Tempe police department and I never went back. I miss the places of my youth so memories like this are great to read about.

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redstaterefugee June 12, 2020 - 9:50 am

You visited Phoenix in August?! You were very brave to visit during peak monsoon season & 100+ degree heat. Were you surprised to find out that AZ respects citizens’ second amendment rights? Was it culture shock when you discovered the total absence of toll roads? How about your first pay check? Were you shocked at how low the state tax was? Leave “NY State of Mind” to Billy Joel, because only he & others like him can afford it or even pretend to enjoy it.

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Dr. Martin Abend (dec'd.) June 13, 2020 - 1:14 pm

I enjoyed it while I was still alive; now, not so much.

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redstaterefugee June 14, 2020 - 10:13 am

At least you don’t have to be concerned about today’s cancel culture (although there would have been a place for you on FNC (imagine you facing off against the ridiculous Leslie Marshall or insufferable Marie Harpf) . On second thought, rest in peace & savor your legacy, Dr. Abend.

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John McCarthy June 17, 2020 - 1:49 pm

You saw Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid at Surfside Movie Theater? I think I sat behind you. LOL And, yes, as “Anonymous” wrote above, that bar on 98th Street had two names for years: Boggiano’s and McWalter’s. I only remember it as, “Boggiano’s.”

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JohnE June 20, 2020 - 2:00 am

That clown logo scared the heck out of me as a little kid. My last visit to Playland was in 1969 when I was 15. The clown didn’t scare by then.
BTW, we’re neighbors. I live in Gilbert, AZ.

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Cobble Hill ExPat June 11, 2020 - 2:18 pm

I nearly got the goosebumps when you mentioned that cold, rainy June of 1982. I was going on 25, living in my 1st apartment on Atlantic Avenue between Henry & Hicks, enamored by the fact I only had one subway stop to my office on Water Street. My “nightlight” across the street was the Montero Bar & Grill sign. And what a great “non-commute” it was: The majority of my trip was the walk to the subway station itself!

Well, just before I was to take my 2 week vacation in early June, my supervisor asked me if I’d be willing to postpone it until August, as he needed the 2 June weeks.

RHIP ruled, & I reluctantly said yes, pissed off that although I wasn’t going away, I’d at least be going to Brighton, Manhattan, Coney Island & perhaps even the Rockaway beaches. I mean it was June, after all.

Well, the rest you know. It actually started Memorial Day weekend, on one of the nights my friend from Dyker Heights picked me up to go clubbing in Manhattan. It was pouring & FREEZING, with the look & feel more like November. But 1st we had to make a stop to pick another friend of his up in Carol Gardens.

I had never been there before. The guy came to the door & let us in, to be greeted by an electric heater going full blast in the middle of the parlor. He was wearing (I think) at least 2 sweaters & the house felt like it was mid-winter. We did, however, make it to the club, where we drank & danced our weather woes away for a while before returning home. I believe it was still pouring at 03:00AM or so.

When my June “staycation” began, I can’t begin to tell you how elated I was that I agreed to the August postponement. Indeed, I will never forget what had to be the most dreary & depressing NYC June. Even biking was impossible. Thankfully my August deferral paid off, with really nice summer weather. Ah, what memories….

By sheer coincidence, Viola Wills had a hit disco single that summer: A remake of “Stormy Weather”. Can’t be sure, exactly, but I could almost search the DJ played it that night at the club, with us all cracking up about it!

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Andy June 11, 2020 - 8:36 pm

Does anyone remember this radio ad that was hear every summer on the top 40 stations WABC and WMCA:

Rockaways Playland, by the sea,
Come for the day, admission is free,
Thrills and fun for everyone,
Come to Rockaways Playland.
Bus and subway bring you here,
Come to Rockaways Playland.

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Pete June 11, 2020 - 10:16 pm

I was born in Central Queens in the early 1950s. My parents would take us kids to Rockaway for the beach and Playland.
It was the baby boom and this place was always jammed with families.
Thanks for the memories. Moved out west in the 70s and had not thought about Rockaway for a long time.

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Ed Findlay June 12, 2020 - 2:05 am

Kevin RBQ, the place that the MTA hasn’t sued yet, isn’t only a bar: it’s also a restaurant specializing in barbeque, thus the play on letters there…. https://rbqrockawaybeach.com/

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JUDY June 12, 2020 - 8:12 am

How funny our lives mirrored each other. My parents took us to Rockaway Beach and the Playland more times than I could count. So many great memories of the 50s and 60s and early 70sOur family moved out west in the early 70s. I moved back and went to the Playland with my boyfriend where I won a little black lab puppy (we named Tabu) on the balloon & dart game. Sounds terrible now when I think of it but at least she went to great people since I couldn’t keep her long.

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Cindy Kleiman July 30, 2020 - 10:54 am

OMG, my cousin also won a puppy (not a lab, a dachshund + 57 varieties mutt) at Playland! He couldn’t keep him, we got him, and named him – what else – Rocky! And yeah, it was a terrible practice, he came to us in very bad shape. We had him for 14 years.

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Cobble HILL ExPat June 12, 2020 - 8:36 am

I sure do – as well as it’s “competition”. Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/lLVgEP8pOWQ

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Thomas Brill June 12, 2020 - 3:30 pm

I remember a trip there that the priests took us altar boys on back in the sixties. I didn’t like being one and stayed on long enough to make this outing before quitting!

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Tal Barzilai June 14, 2020 - 11:34 pm

Unfortunately, the reason why so many amusement parks like this no longer exist in NYC is mainly because those who owned went bankrupt and lead them to sit vacant for a time, were destroyed by some disaster beyond and were cost too much to repair them, or they were just sold for being prime real estate especially during the urban renewal period.

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William Mangahas June 15, 2020 - 10:05 am

I casually knew the owner of Rockaways Playland through a long time friend of mine.
The reason why Playland closed was because his insurance premiums rose so high that turning a profit was next to impossible.
So the owner sold the land to developers and that was Playland’s death knell.

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John McCarthy June 17, 2020 - 1:59 pm

Oh, also, that “5-story assisted living center” is on the NORTH side of Rockaway Beach Blvd. The SE corner is a municipal parking lot, installed by Robert Moses. I forget when, but it must have been after 4/25/38, as that’s the date stamped on the photo.

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Tal Barzilai June 22, 2020 - 6:26 pm

BTW, the Revere Beach Station in Boston, which is part of the MBTA Blue Line, also has a picture of a no longer existing amusement park just on its platform just like this subway station.

https://www.nycsubway.org/perl/show?88182

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