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!