The History of an Amusement Icon…
Playland’s location on the shores of Long Island Sound already had a long history as a favorite recreation area of the local population by 1927. According to an early report of the Westchester County Park Commission, the area evolved rapidly as the population increased, until in the late 1800s fancy resorts were already giving way to bawdy hotels and rowdy amusement areas, attracting unsavory crowds. Angry local residents petitioned the Commission to purchase and redevelop the area. To create Playland the Commission purchased and razed two theme parks on the site, Rye Beach and Paradise Park.
Frank W. Darling was president of the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company at Coney Island when he was tapped by the Westchester County Park Commission to construct, operate and manage Playland. By then (1927) Darling had constructed amusement parks in New Zealand, at the British Empire Exposition in Wembley, and at the Modern Art Exposition in Paris, and was well known as an old amusement man, in experience, but not in years or enthusiasm.
Darling’s execution included a balanced, planned layout with the beauty of the architectural form evidenced in all buildings. Artists designed special panels on buildings; lighting was good but subdued; an integrated music system was installed to send out favorite melodies by Sousa, Wagner and Berlin over the entire area; landscaping was carefully planned and executed. The day after Labor Day, 1927, over 1,000 men began construction. Work was finished in time for the scheduled opening on May 26, 1928. Visiting experts immediately declared Playland to be one of the finest recreational centers of its kind in the country.
Frank Darling continued as Director of Playland for several more years and completed additional projects such as the Olympic-size pool, increased boardwalk concessions, an indoor ice skating rink, a scenic railway, and additional restaurants and picnic areas.
THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN
Playland’s 280 acres were intended to be the jewel in the crown of Westchester’s extensive park system. The County hired the award-winning firm of Walker and Gillette to design an Art Deco masterpiece. (As the only Art Deco amusement park in America, Playland is part of the National Register of Historic Places). Gilmore D. Clarke, the Westchester County Park Commission’s head landscape architect, created manicured landscaping throughout the park. The original design included picnic areas, restaurants, three ice-skating rinks, swimming pool, two beaches totaling approximately 7,900 feet of shoreline, in addition to the thrilling amusement rides.
A THRILL A MINUTE
The concept of a family-friendly amusement park appealed to the people of Westchester County and the New York City region. First season visitors far exceeded even the Park Commission’s optimistic predictions. Crowds flocked to Playland to ride the Whip, the Derby Racer, and more than a dozen other thrilling rides. Playland still boasts seven original rides that pre-date 1930.
AMERICA’S PREMIER PLAYGROUND
Playland proudly billed itself as “America’s Premier Playground”. Increasingly crowds came to witness–and participate in–spectacles and events. Playland evolved into much more than amusement rides; it became a place to see circus acts, dance under the stars, win a new car, and crown the most beautiful baby in Westchester.
OLD MAN BY THE SEA
Playland enters its ninth decade as Westchester County’s venerable old man by the sea. But like its creator, Frank Darling, the park is “old in amusements but young in enthusiasm.”
We hope you have enjoyed your tour of Playland!