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Jeremiah James
Jeremiah James

Luna Park

Luna Park is a name shared by dozens of currently operating and defunct amusement parks. They are named after, and partly based on, the first Luna Park, which opened in 1903 during the heyday of large Coney Island parks. Luna parks are small-scale attraction parks, easily accessed, potentially addressed to the permanent or temporary residential market, and located in the suburbs or even near the town center. Luna parks mainly offer classic funfair attractions (great wheel), newer features (electronic displays) and catering services.[1]

Luna Park

The original Luna Park on Coney Island, a massive spectacle of rides, ornate towers and cupolas covered in 250,000 electric lights, was opened in 1903 by the showmen and entrepreneurs Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy. The park was either named after the fanciful airship Luna, part of the new park's central attraction A Trip to the Moon, or after Dundy's sister.[2][3] Luna Park was a vastly expanded attraction built partly on the grounds of Sea Lion Park, the first enclosed amusement park on Coney Island which closed down due to competition from nearby Steeplechase Park.

In 1905, Frederick Ingersoll, who was already making a reputation for his pioneering work in roller coaster construction and design (he also designed scenic railroad rides) borrowed the name when he opened Luna Park in Pittsburgh and Luna Park in Cleveland. These first two amusement parks, like their namesake, were covered with electric lighting (the former was adorned with 67,000 light bulbs;[4] the latter, 50,000[5]). Later, in 1907, Charles Looff opened another Luna Park in Seattle, Washington. Ultimately, Ingersoll opened 44 Luna Parks around the world, the first chain of amusement parks. For a short time, Ingersoll renamed his parks Ingersoll's Luna Park to distinguish them from the Luna Parks to which he had no connection.[6] Ingersoll's death in 1927 and the closing of most of his Luna Parks did not stop new parks from taking the name.

Luna Park was an amusement park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City. The park was located on a site bounded by Surf Avenue to the south, West 8th Street to the east, Neptune Avenue to the north, and West 12th Street to the west. Luna Park opened in 1903 and operated until 1944. It was located partly on the grounds of the small park it replaced, Sea Lion Park, "the first enclosed and permanent amusement park in North America", which had operated between 1895 and 1902.[2] It was the second of the three original, very large, iconic parks built on Coney Island; the other were Steeplechase Park (1897, by George C. Tilyou) and Dreamland (1904, by William H. Reynolds).[3] At Coney Island's peak in the middle of the 20th century's first decade, the three amusement parks competed with each other and with many independent amusements.

Luna Park's co-founders Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy had created the "A Trip To The Moon" ride, which had been highly popular during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, and operated at Steeplechase Park in 1902. Luna Park opened on May 16, 1903, and it was highly profitable until Dundy died in 1907. Thompson then operated the park alone until 1912, when his lease was canceled. The Luna Amusement Company owned the park from 1911 to 1939; during the Great Depression, creditors foreclosed on Luna Park twice. The park was leased to a syndicate in 1940 and continued to operate during World War II. Over the years, the park's owners constantly added new attractions and shows.

The western half of the park was destroyed by a fire in August 1944 and never reopened, while the eastern half closed in September 1944. Although some rides on Surf Avenue continued to operate after 1944, much of the site remained closed for several years; the entire site was redeveloped as the Luna Park Houses between 1958 and 1962. Though another amusement park named Luna Park opened nearby in 2010, it has no connection to the 1903 park.

Between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors per year.[4] Sea Lion Park opened in 1895[5] and was Coney Island's first amusement area to charge entry fees;[6][7] this in turn spurred the construction of George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Park in 1897, the neighborhood's first major amusement park.[6][8]

In 1901, Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy had created a wildly successful ride, called "A Trip To The Moon", as part of the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York. The name of the fanciful "airship" (complete with flapping wings) that was the main part of the ride was Luna, the Latin word for the moon.[9][10] The airship, and the park that was subsequently built around it, may have been named after Dundy's sister in Des Moines, Luna Dundy Newman.[9][11] George C. Tilyou, the owner of Steeplechase Park, invited Thompson and Dundy to move their attraction to Steeplechase for the 1902 season.[10][12] The ride performed poorly during that season, which was extremely rainy.[13] Thompson and Dundy opted to establish their own amusement park at the end of the season, following a disagreement with Tilyou.[12][13]

Thompson and Dundy agreed to take over the site of Paul Boyton's 16-acre (6.5 ha) Sea Lion Park in August 1902.[14][15] As part of the deal, they leased some land from Frederick Kister, and they also leased a strip of land on West 12th Street for 25 years.[16] Sea Lion Park had several centerpiece rides, but the bad 1902 season and competition with Steeplechase Park had prompted Boyton to leave the amusement park business.[11] Thompson and Dundy also leased the adjacent site of the Elephantine Colossus Hotel,[11] which had burned down in 1896.[17] This gave them 22 acres (8.9 ha), all the land north of Surf Avenue and south of Neptune Avenue, between West 8th and West 12th Streets.[18]

Dundy was charged with raising capital for the project, while Thompson was responsible for the park's layout and architecture.[11] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle initially estimated that Thompson and Dundy would spend $200,000 on renovating Sea Lion Park.[15] Ultimately, the men spent $700,000 (although they advertised it as $1 million) totally rebuilding the park and expanding its attractions.[19][20] Wall Street financiers and Coney Island speculators each contributed half of the project's cost.[11] By November 1902, Thompson aimed to open the park by May 2 of the following year.[21] Topsy the elephant, who had been bought that season by Boyton to add to the menagerie of animals at Sea Lion Park, was involved in demolishing some of the old rides. During an October event that involved Topsy hauling the airship Luna from Steeplechase to its new location, handler William Alt was arrested for disorderly conduct after assaulting the elephant with a pitchfork and then turning it loose to wander down Surf Avenue.[22][23] In an organized publicity stunt, Thompson and Dundy announced they were going to hang Topsy and sell tickets to the event. Following an intervention from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Thompson and Dundy agreed to more a humane method of poisoning, electrocuting, and strangling the elephant in a smaller private affair that was captured in the short film Electrocuting an Elephant.[24] Thompson and Dundy ultimately electrocuted Topsy, then killed her using cyanide, in January 1903.[25][26]

Thompson and Dundy planned to add new rides including a flower garden, a German village, and a Trip to the Moon attraction.[22] The lagoon and the Shoot-the-Chutes attraction were the only parts of Sea Lion Park to be retained.[11][12][22] Early plans called for Luna Park to include a tower with 38,000 lights.[15] The park's original rides and attractions also included an infant incubator, a Shoot the Chute ride, a three-ring circus, and a Fire and Flames show that employed over a thousand performers.[27] Luna Park unofficially opened on April 5, 1903, with a live show.[28][29] The same month, Leo Wyent and George M. Foley sued to prevent Thompson and Dundy from issuing a concession that would allow a third party to sell cigars and alcoholic beverages at the park.[30] Thompson and Dundy planned to sell alcoholic beverages at one location in the park, the German Village.[28]

Calling itself "[t]he heart of Coney Island",[31] Luna Park turned on its lights on May 16, 1903,[32][33] at 8 p.m.[32][34] The park's gates opened five minutes later[34] to a crowd of 45,000 guests.[35] It featured 39 shows[36] and initially contained 53 buildings.[37] Admission to the park was ten cents.[38][39] An additional fee was required for some rides, ranging up to 25 cents for the most elaborate attractions, although the park also hosted free shows.[39] Luna Park was accessible from Culver Depot, the terminals of the West End and Sea Beach railroad lines.[40] Its general manager D. S. Smith had arranged for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) to operate express trains directly to Park Row Terminal in Manhattan during the park's operating hours, terminating directly at Luna Park's main entrance;[28][29] this arrangement continued until 1909.[41] The park was extremely popular, recording 142,000 guests on Independence Day in 1903.[38] Thompson and Dundy had recovered 90 percent of Luna Park's construction cost less than three months after its grand opening.[42]

Thompson and Dundy were constantly changing the park's attractions.[50] Ahead of the 1904 season, Thompson and Dundy expanded Luna Park by 16 acres (6.5 ha),[51][52] bringing its total area to 38 acres (15 ha).[43][53] The expansion included replicas of additional locales,[54] a Japanese tea garden,[55] a replica of a Himalayan mountain above the Coney Island Creek,[56] and a $250,000 reproduction of the Delhi Durbar.[55][56] Thompson and Dundy also added several shows, including "Night and Morning", as well as a series of pageants hosted on a 700 ft-wide (210 m) stage.[57] A second deck was added around the central lagoon, increasing the park's capacity by 70,000.[43][52] George Kessler of the Sea Beach Land Company agreed to buy the land under Luna Park in June 1904 for over $1 million; the sale did not affect Thompson and Dundy's lease of the site.[58][59] Kessler initially took an option on the site; he decided to exercise his option in September 1904.[60] At the time, Luna Park had already accommodated two million guests.[61] 041b061a72


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