Ride on: An iconic Westchester amusement park is at a turning point
Even if you’ve never been to Rye Playland, you might recognize it from the 1980s blockbuster movies Big and Fatal Attraction, which used the amusement park’s Art Deco buildings and retro rides as a stylish backdrop. But nothing can replace a visit to this nostalgic spot on Long Island Sound.
Playland debuted in 1928. “It is the first totally planned amusement park,” says Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks. “It is also the only government-run amusement park on this scale in the country.”
In addition to seven of the original 1920s rides — the most famous being the wooden Dragon Coaster — the 280-acre park has contemporary attractions (like the gravity-defying Super Flight) and a kiddie land with 21 rides, bringing the grand total to 47. There’s also a pool and, of course, the beach. The boardwalk is also back: Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of it, but the original pine was replaced by a more durable Brazilian hardwood. (The landmark Ice Casino skating arena also took a big hit, but is set to reopen this fall.)
“It clearly needs a face-lift and some updating,” says Westchester County Legislator Peter Harckham, chairman of the committee overseeing the transition of the park’s operation to Sustainable Playland Inc. (SPI), a nonprofit which won a bid to restore the park and keep it financially viable. “The discussion is about how best to keep it as a park. Playland is on the National Register of Historic Places, so anything we do has to be within that context.”
While SPI’s proposal originally called for reducing the number of rides, that idea has been nixed. “A number of people, and I’m one of them, feel that the amusement component is critical,” says Harckham. “They’re maintaining the size and bringing in Central Amusement International as an operator. They’re the folks who did the renovation of Coney Island.”
Another part of the plan that has changed is a reduction in the size of the field house to be built in the parking lot, from 95,000 to 82,500 square feet. An aquatics activity center, restaurants, and a children’s museum are all part of the Playland Improvement Plan (PIP), available to read at www.sustainableplayland.org.
Reaction has been mixed. Foes say that the field house is still too big and the overall plan will create noise and congestion, among other issues. Others welcome the idea of a year-round recreation destination, as it would stimulate the local economy.
For his part, Harckham is optimistic. “No matter what decision we make on the PIP, people should know that Playland is open for business this summer — and it’s only going to get better.” Opening day is May 10. $30, $10 spectators (no rides), under 3 free. 914-813-7000; www.ryeplayland.org