2012-06-08 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

William Auer’s Tent City, Rockaway Beach, New York - 1914
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

In the early 1900s William Auer started out with and rented some tents at the west end of the Seaside section. Apparently, he rented some land from an unscrupulous landlord, who supposedly reneged on Auer’s lease, after observing Auer’s instant success and profit, and went into the tent renting business himself. Auer’s new tent city was laid out on land rented from George C. Tilyou of Coney Island, at the southeast corner of Beach 98 Street and the Boulevard, inside Tilyou’s steeplechase park, which opened at Rockaway Beach in 1901.

In the same season, more tents were added by the demand, and the tents spread to the whole block between Beach 97 and Beach 98 Street in Tilyou’s park.

When L.A. Thompson moved his midway and hurricane scenic railway to Tilyou’s park at Rockaway Beach, after the assassination of President McKinley on Thompson’s midway at the 1901 exposition at Buffalo, some tents along Beach 98 Street were moved over a block. This was to make room for the scenic railroad and pavilions along the new lengthened Tilyou boardwalk. The expanded park containing Thompson’s attractions opened in 1902. All prospered and gained due to this new expansion.

Three years later, in 1905, Thompson purchased the land his park addition was built on, from Tilyou, and called the place the L.A. Thompson Amusement Park (which became the future Rockaways’ Playland, boulevard to ocean between Beach 97 and Beach 98 Streets).

L.A. Thompson had invented the rollercoaster and opened his first at Coney Island in 1888. They were at first called switchbacks, and when the line of its cars went through buildings filled with elaborate scenery, they became known as scenic railways. For almost two decades, Thompson enlarged and added height to increase speed, and even doubled the track for side by side runs.

During this time the L.A. Thompson scenic railway and rollercoaster company had built faster and much higher coasters at Coney Island and many cities the world over. Now it was time to wow Rockaway with a new coaster in his park at Rockaway, to compete with the other three coasters in Seaside.

Come 1923, it was announced that Thompson Park would be completely rebuilt complete with a new longer and higher and faster-hurricane coaster.

In order to rebuild the park and add many other amusement attractions, Auer had to move his tent city to the site shown today in Historical Views. The site was between Beach 96 and Beach 97 Streets (on the left in the photo today) and this is where it stayed.

A few years later the new boardwalk of wood, concrete, and steel was built to replace the old wooden structure on the Rockaway Beach stretch of beachfront. Auer and his new partner, Max Kraus, did away with a few tents and built a kiddie amusement park along the walk.

Auer lost again when Shorefront Parkway was built in the late 1930s. The entire kiddie park and a lot of space for tents were lost and only a handful of tents were left. These went one by one as A&K gradually built a new and smaller kiddie park at the site.

This was later done away with for a parking lot, with the old custard stand as an office, noted in a 1959 photo, and new housing has saturated the area in the new century. The two largest buildings shown in the top left quadrant are still there.

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