Located on Beach 98th Street stood one of the last great amusement parks in the borough of Queens which stood proudly from 1902 until 1982. Rockaways’ Playland was opened with the hopes of becoming a huge summer attraction for both locals and wealthy families willing to travel. It was incredibly successful, being compared to destinations such as today’s Coney Island and it “symbolized the glory days of Rockaway Beach as a tourist mecca”.
The entrance of Rockaways’ was adorned with a large smiling clown which welcomed guests and set the mood for the thrills to come. There was no absence of excitement as kids waited in line, cotton candy in hand, to ride the Atom Smasher. Thought of as “the anchor of playland” the wooden coaster known as the Atom Smasher stood a massive six stories high and was even featured in the film “This is Cinerama”. A large swimming pool was added which later became used for Olympic tryouts. In addition to being the go-to place to feel the freedoms of being a child, attractions were introduced to appeal to adults as well. The ride known as “Hell n’ Back” was a popular ride which brought riders through a fun house via small carts run on electricity. At a time when people became interested in anything and everything space-related, the park did well to adapt. On the east end of the main entrance sat a “mobile rocket” which invited young visitors to climb in and explore. Other space themed attractions included “Out of This World” which was a walk through fun house made to make you feel as though you were exploring another planet all together. In 1928 the Geist family bought the park and maintained it until its closure. The 1930’s and 40’s saw large crowds with the wealthy often renting bungalows in the area during the summer to attend the park. Up until the 70’s the park still saw many visitors during the holidays but lacked a steady crowd otherwise. Like other failing amusement parks of the time, competition from parks like Great Adventure in New Jersey made Rockaways feel underwhelming and eventually obsolete.
Richard L. Geist spoke on the issue of the parks decline stating that factors like rising bridge tolls discouraged travel to the park, and razing of nearby bungalows forced them to rely merely on local visitors. Hope was on the horizon when the park was sold to Peter Horowitz with hopes to rejuvenate it with new rides. Unfortunately the vast majority of the public was unable to see the comeback the park was beginning to make due to its premature closing. While the price of liability insurance was somewhere around 50,000 during 1985, the following year brought an increase closer to 400,000. 1985 was the last year to see the glory of Rockaways but some were unable to let go of the memories made there. In July a local newspaper disdainfully reported an attempted -failed- robbery of a concession stand that was left standing, which lead to the death of an innocent woman. Times were changing, and with the park unable to adapt it was left behind. Decades passed and the area gave way to housing developments leaving only the fondest memories of days spent at the grand Rockaways’ Playland.
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