With the possibility of major changes to Rye Playland looming, we went back to our 2009 historic walking tour of Playland and Rye Town Park to take another look at Playland's long and storied history. Here's why the historic structures and Playland should be saved.
Playland was built by the Westchester County Parks Commission between Labor Day 1927 and May 1928! It's amazing to think of 1,000 workers demolishing the existing amusement park, clearing marshlands and vacant land and building the new park, all in just 9 months. Here's a picture of workers building the famous Dragon Coaster.
Playland was the first totally planned amusement park in the U.S. and the first amusement park specifically designed for automobile access. Before Playland, patrons typically arrived at Rye's beaches and amusement parks by trolley, ferry boat or bus. Playland's car parks could accommodate 10,000 cars, which explains how it had 300,000 visitors during its opening weekend in 1928. Here's what the car parks might have looked like on that very busy weekend.
Playland is also famous for its music tower -- the first amusement park to have music electronically broadcast throughout the park (perhaps not such a popular feature with today's nearby Rye residents....)
Playland is particularly well-known for its Art Deco architecture, which is one of the major reasons why we are eager to save it. It's the first amusement park to have its attractions visually integrated by a uniform colonnade and a consistent architectural style, and it still looks today basically the way it did in the late 1920s.
From the beginning, Playland was tremendously popular. Visitors came from as far away as California, Florida and Canada. The Parks Commission tried hard to make Playland appeal to the middle class, and it was an era of much greater formality. Women came wearing dresses, heels and hats, and men wore jackets and ties. The bathhouse accommodated 10,000 people since obviously visitors needed to change before heading to the beach. In those days, it was completely unacceptable to arrive at the beach already wearing bathing suits. In fact, the bathhouse was designed for beachgoers to exit below the boardwalk level so they couldn't be seen in their bathing suits by other park visitors. When Playland opened, proper decorum required that bathing suits cover much of the body. Here's a great example of the fashionable beach-goers of the 1920's.
Playland Lake is one of the gems created when Playland was built. It was largely a swamp and salt marsh with a tidal inlet running through it. During the construction of Playland, an 80 acre lake was created and dredged to a depth of 30 feet. The dredged soil was used to fill the area that became amusement park and parking areas. Today, the Lake still provides a peaceful haven for visitors to row, paddle and enjoy the many shore birds inhabiting the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary.
Today, as the County debates the future of Playland, let's pause and consider the important role that Playland has played, not only in the development of amusement parks but in the evolution of our own community. Playland is woven into the fabric of our community and provides a vivid and lively link to our past. It has been designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark because it possesses "exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States." Playland remains a significant part of the heritage of Rye, Westchester County and the U.S., and this heritage must be given a high priority as the County considers Playland's future.