Tag Archives: Westchester County Parks

Amusement Parks: Rye Playland

Ride on: An iconic Westchester amusement park is at a turning point

Rye Playland, photo from Hudson Valley Magazine (May 2014)

Rye Playland, photo from Hudson Valley Magazine (May 2014)

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

Reprinted from Hudson Valley Magazine, May 2014

Rye Playland’s Dragon Coaster


Into the fiery breath of the beast, rocketing like there’s no tomorrow- the dragon’s hair-raising joy ride turns grown-ups into screaming children. Listen to the gasps and squeals as these fearless daredevils brave the perils of blazing reptilian inferno.

The Dragon Coaster was built during PLAYLAND’s first season. Know as a “scenic Railway” ride, because it travels on tracks, the coaster uses inertia to hurl riders back as the cars careen into a tunnel resembling the mouth of a dragon.


American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) recognizes Playland’s Dragon Coaster as an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark, a designation reserved for rides of historic significance.

Opened on May 1, 1929, the 85-foot high wood coaster is one of only three remaining examples designed by Frederick A. Church (1878-1936) still in operation and the only Church design left on the East Coast.

Built at the end of the “Golden Age of Roller Coasters,” Frank Darling, Playland’s chief designer and general manager, worked with Church to create a beautiful v-shaped out-and-back design, to complement Church’s legendary Airplane Coaster, which had opened during Playland’s inaugural season on 1928.

Filled with an extensive collection of drops and turns along its impressive 3,400-foot long course, the coaster offers a unique ride layout, with a 75-foot high initial drop and a curved station with a classic art deco entrance. With the removal of the more intense Airplane Coaster in 1957, it quickly became the park’s signature attraction, celebrated for its dragon-shaped tunnel that appears to swallow the train midway through the ride’s course. Even though the original two-bench articulated cars that Church designed were replaced in 1988, Dragon Coaster continues to thrill riders of all ages.

ACE salutes Playland, a National Historic Landmark, for continuing to operate and preserve Dragon Coaster for a whole new generation of fans to enjoy.

Presented by the American Coaster Enthusiasts
During Dragon Coaster’s 80th Anniversary Season
August 8, 2009