2008-02-08 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

Rockaways' L.A. Thompson Amusement Park… 1902 to 1928
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev,Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

From 1857 up until Robert Moses (the pharaoh of NYC) destroyed and demolished the Rockaway's amusement area for Shorefront Parkway in 1937, the Rockaway Beach oceanfront was the place to be for fun, entertainment, and seaside summer living… for the day, week, or season!

The only credit I give ole Bob was that he always made sure that the cash for upkeep and repair was made available somewhere in the plans he himself drew up. Now that he is gone for some time the things he built are in need of repair or replacement. Suffolk County on Long Island erected a bronze statue of Moses at the old Babylon town hall some time ago. Since then the pigeons are expressing the sentiments of a lot of those who remember the tactics he used for satisfying his tremendous ego!

Anyway, after the invention of the rollercoaster in 1884, two were built in the seaside area of the Rockaways by 1888, and at this time Thompson and his new company were building coasters all over the world. The Entertainment Midway he built at the Buffalo, New York exposition in 1901, suffered great revenue loss after President William McKinley was shot there, and later died!

His friend and competitor George C. Tilyou persuaded Thompson to move his Midway and put it down on the easterly side of Tilyou's Steeplechase Park, between Beach 97 Street and Beach 98 Street. Steeplechase ran westward to Beach 101 Street, boulevard to oceanfront. Thompson took the advice and opened his midway in 1902, complete with one of his scenic railways, an old mill water ride under it, a carousel, restaurant, and games of chance, as well as bathhouses and beach accommodations. A small tent camp was located on the Beach 98 Street side. Three years later, Thompson purchased the site of his midway spot, and opened his L.A. Thompson Amusement Park. All the features were improved or enlarged, especially the scenic railway coaster.

Views today shows a 1912 plan of the park, which remained basically the same until a complete rebuild in 1923, for the 1924 season. The blank area is where the tent colony was located, the baths and old mill and coaster were on the boardwalk (dotted line), and Howley's Hotel was at the boulevard corner at Beach 97 Street.

For the season of 1924, Thompson introduced his giant whirlwind coaster to the Rockaways, plus a caterpillar ride, giant airplane ride, a fun house, a whip ride, and many other large "thrill" rides of the time.

The second view shows the boardwalk end of Thompson Park from Beach 98 Street to Beach 97 Street. Aminiature steam railway once ran on the walk where the shaded benches are. It was a double track right of way until storms and accidents caused removal.

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