Coney Island - Astroland
The material is copyrighted © 2013 by Jeffrey Stanton.
Astroland was the last amusement park that still operated at Coney Island. However, it was a rather recent park that opened in 1962.
When the Feltman Restaurant property was auctioned in June 1954, Dewey Albert
and Herman Rapps were the successful bidders. The property, 197 feet on
Surf Ave., 674 feet on W. 10th, 200 feet along the Boardwalk and 720 feet
on Jones Walk, included a two-story restaurant on Surf Avenue, a recently
erected steel and concrete cafeteria building, and 20 rides and concessions
occupying the remainder of the property.
The property, which had been sold by the Feltman's to a syndicate for $850,000 in 1947 with a $650,000 mortgage, had been foreclosed by Alfred Feltman in 1952 for its remaining $425,000 mortgage. Its 137,000 square feet (3 acres) had been assessed at $1,000,000. Dewey Albert and Herman Rapps' successful bid of $490,000 was subject to payment of $40,000 in unpaid city taxes and $10,151 in unpaid social security taxes, left by the previous tenant, for a total cost of $540,151. Also one of the conditions of the sale was that they could not use the Feltman name in the future. The partners immediately announced that they would demolish the buildings, then after the Oceanarium was built in 1957, they would build a new amusement park called Wonderland.
Years later in an interview on Astroland's 25th anniversary, Dewey Albert claimed that he had never intended to get into the amusement business. In 1954 he was in the construction business and friends with Nathan Handwerker who owned Nathan's Hotdogs on Surf Avenue. Since Nathan wanted to move to the site where he was once employed and didn't want anyone to know, he asked Dewey to buy the site and hold it for him. Of course Nathan's never moved.
In 1955, Herman Rapps and Dewey Albert along with Nathan Handwerker, Sidney Robbins and Paul Yampo formed a corporation called Coney Island Enterprises. The old 500 seat Feltman's Restaurant building on Surf Avenue was leased to Joe Bartolini. Then they hired the four Garto Brothers (Al, Frank, Tony and Joe) to take over 75% of Wonderland Park's interior and enlarge the former kiddie park. The largest of their 30 kiddie rides was the Kiddie Hot Rods, gas powered cars on a speedway track. Other attractions installed that first summer were a National Train Ride, Tilt-a-Whirl, a Looper ride, shooting gallery and game stalls.
By 1956, despite a rash of accidents, they operated a Boat Channel Train Ride, the Hot Rods, Ferris Wheel, Tilt-a-whirl, two Loopers, pony track, Little Dipper and 10 older kiddie rides. That summer they bought a new tank for the gasoline engine boats and installed a donkey ride. The following year they had a Pretzel dark ride, and in 1958 began replacing their dated kiddie rides. However they decided to retain the old Feltman carousel for a total of 16 rides.
During the winter of 1962 Dewey Albert sent his son Jerome to Europe to shop for rides for their new refurbished amusement park to be called Astroland. It was to be a park that Dewey and his son would operate rather than the Garto brothers.
In 1962 they embarked on a major expansion with the theme "Journey to the
21st Century." The block wide Astroland midway featured the Cape Canaveral
Satellite Jet, a ride that created the effect of a roaring journey to the
moon. The aluminum rocket seated 32 who watched the launch projected onto
a screen in the rocket's nose. It simulated flight conditions with the aid
of seats that twisted and vibrated, and a tape recording of the rocket's
roar. High above the Mercury Capsule Skyride transported astronauts in 16
plastic bubble-cars, some 80 feet over the park to the Boardwalk. When they
installed it, the Building Department had never seen anything like it.
The 1963 season saw the installation of the Neptune Diving Bells, a poor
man's submarine, which plunged 15 passengers in each chamber to a depth
of 30 feet where two 500 pound porpoises, Flopper and Flapper, and other
fish could be seen in the 50,000 gallon tank. The ride, identical to the
one at Atlantic City cost $250,000. The other ride debuting that season
was the Double Sky Wheel, a rotating dumbbell shaped frame supporting two
small revolving Ferris wheels on opposite ends.
In 1964, the classic 1903 Feltman's Carousel was removed to make way for the Tower to the Stars, a 272 foot high tower. Surrounding the tower was a single glass-enclosed donut shaped car that made a 360 degree rotation as it ascended the high tower. Thus the patrons had an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean and New York City on the 3-1/2 minute ride. The ride manufactured by Willy Buhler of Bern, Switzerland, cost $1,672,000. Also debuting that summer was a Bumper Skooter and a German roller coaster style ride called Flight to Mars. A 50 year old charming German kiddie carousel filled in for the retired larger Feltman carousel.
Also operating at Astroland was the Indianapolis Raceway, a go-cart track with gasoline powered midget racing cars; the Calypso, which featured cars that spun and shifted tracks on an inclined rotating circular floor; the Giant Octopus, the Orbit and a group of kiddie rides.
Coney Island experienced a dramatic business slump during the 1964 season.
It was the worst summer in a quarter of a century with a business drop of
30 - 90% from the previous year. Empty roller coaster cars and deserted
arcades and bingo parlors were attributed by concessionaires to "bad publicity,
unsafe subways, young hoodlums, bad weather, inadequate parking, the World's
Fair (in nearby Queens) and insufficient lighting" - in that order. After
Steeplechase decided to close at the end of the 1964 season, many of Coney's
former visitors no longer wanted to go to Coney's run down, dirty and unsafe
amusement area. The 1965 season was markedly worse. But in 1966 Astroland
took advantage of both attraction's closings to purchase cheaply, Tilt-a-whirl
and Caterpillar rides from Steeplechase and the Log Flume from the World's
In June 1975 the Parks Department, in a search for a new operator of the Cyclone roller coaster, chose Dewey Albert's Astroland as the operator. The city had purchased the famous coaster in 1971 from Silvio Pinto for $1,000,000, offered to turn it over to the adjacent N.Y. Aquarium for possible demolition, then leased it back to Pinto. The coaster was in need of repair, so it was leased to Astroland for $57,000 / year. Eventually Dewey Albert would own the coaster, but the land it stands on belongs to the Parks Department.
Astroland had always had trouble attracting its share of Coney's amusement business until an early morning fire on July 12, 1975 nearly wiped out the Albert family's dream. At 3:20 A.M. a fire broke out in the arcade's bar and grill at the northwest corner of the park along Surf Avenue and W. 10th. Eighty firemen battled the blaze whose flames were as high as an eight story building. For a while the Cyclone roller coaster across the street was endangered. By the time the fire was extinguished, it destroyed the amusement arcade, the restaurant building, dozens of boardwalk games and several concessions. Only one ride, the Musik Express was damaged. There were plans to rebuild the restaurant, but once the rubble from the three burned buildings was cleared, the view of the park from Surf Avenue was no longer blocked and people discovered Astroland was there.
The following year (1976) Astroland spent $2,000,000 for five new rides.
The Break Dance ride alone cost $1,000,000. Its 66-foot-diameter steel platform
tilted at a 30 degree angle held four pods of four two-passenger cars. As
the platform spun in one direction, the pods spun the other direction. As
the ride increased speed, the pods would undulate to give the effect of
break dancing. Loud thumping music added to the effect and at night the
lights added to its dizzying sensation. While most rides were priced in
the $1 to $2 range, the Break Dance ride was $2.50. Another new ride was
the Enterprise; a flat spinning ride where the cars spun outward with centrifugal
force. Once the ride hit maximum speed, it lifted slowly to vertical and
lofted its unwitting passengers completely upside down at its highest point.
Today's visitor will discover 10 adult rides including the Cyclone roller coaster (85 feet tall wooden twister style coaster), Mystic Express (a fast circular flat ride), Break Dance (tilted flat ride), Astrotower (high view of park), Go Karts (gasoline powered go-karts on oval track), Tilt-a-whirl, Water Flume, Dante's Inferno (unexciting tracked dark ride), Enterprise (spining flat ride that lifts to vertical position) and Pirate Ship (swinging boat). Its 12 kiddie rides include; Circuit 2000, Motorcycles, Cars, Boats, Cars, Carousel, Swing, Kiddie Himalaya, Train on Tracks, Scrambler, Air Cars, Kiddie Roller coaster (10 feet high).
Sadly Astroland was bought by Thor Industires to build high-rise condominiums. It closed at the end of the 2008 season and the rides were sold.
ASTROLAND RIDES - TIMELINE
- Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet - 1963
- Mercury Capsule Skyride - 1963 - European Swiss Sky ride with
bubble shaped cars that transported passengers 80 feet off the ground from
Surf Avenue to the Boardwalk.
- Neptune Diving Bells - 1963 - 1982?? - 15 passenger bell capsule
with portholes plunges passengers to depth of 30 feet where they view fish
- Double Sky Wheel - 1963 - Present (two small ferris wheels on ends of dumbbell
shaped revolving frame)
- Indianapolis Raceway (aka Go-Karts) - 1963 - Present (Go-cart track with
midget gasoline powered racing cars.)
- Giant Octopus - 1963 - ???
- Miniature Train - ???
- Calypso - 1963 - (cars spun & shifted on an incline rotating floor
- German ride)
- Astrotower - 1963-Present - (275 feet tall space tower on site of
Feltman's carousel cost $1.6 million)
- Bumper Skooter - 1964
- Flight to Mars - 1964 (roller coaster style ????)
- Break Dance - 1976?? - Present (spinning flat ride on a tilted revolving
- Log Flume - 1966 - Present (from 1964 World's Fair)
- Caterpillar - 1966 - ??? (ride purchased from Steeplechase)
- Tilt-a-whirl - 1966 - Present (ride purchased from Steeplechase)
- Kiddie Rides ??? - Present (12 kiddie rides: Kiddie Himalaya,
Train on tracks, Kiddie Coaster 10 feet high, Air cars, Scrambler, Swing,
Cars (flat ride), Motorcycles (flat ride), Boats (flat ride), Carousel,
- Cyclone - added to park 1975 - Present (85 foot tall wooden roller coaster
in twister style - built in 1927)
- Musik Express - m 1975 - Present (flat spinning-type ride )
- Dante's Inferno - ??? - Present (dark ride)
- Pirate Ship - ??? - Present (swinging boat ride)
- Enterprise - ??? - Present (cars on perimeter of rotating wheel that lifts
to full vertical)