Places that Matter
Luna Park (site of)
Place Matters Profile
By Sarah Brockett
Luna Park, one of the world’s first amusement parks, operated at Coney Island from 1903 until 1944. The park played a major role in the development of Coney Island into one of the country’s greatest resorts of the early twentieth century. Its revolutionary rides and roller coasters ushered in a new era of technology in entertainment.
In 1901, Frederick Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy unveiled their fantastical Trip to the Moon cyclorama at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The ride, which gave visitors an impression of journeying to the moon, was such a hit that George C. Tilyou secured it for the 1902 season at his Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. The ride proved to be an enormous success. Thompson and Dundy then bought the ailing Sea Lion Park, believed to be the world's first enclosed amusement park, on the north side of Surf Avenue between West 8th and 12th Streets. They spent roughly $700,000 to turn it into an amusement park of their own for the 1903 season, called Luna Park. Their new venture featured the popular cyclorama as well as the central Shoot the Chutes, a water slide left over from Sea Lion.
Anticipation for the new Luna Park built through the year as curious locals and vacationers watched its towers rise from the sand. The fantastic spires and domes made Luna Park look like a city out of another world. The park opened to the public at 8 p.m. on May 16, 1903. By 10 p.m. as many as sixty thousand people had paid the ten cent entry fee to get a look at the new fantasy land. The park was so wildly popular that Thompson and Dundy earned ninety percent of their investment back by the end of the summer. In 1904 Senator William Reynolds attempted to mimic the success of Luna Park in his own Dreamland Park, and, until it burned down in 1911, the three parks--first Steeplechase, then Luna, and then Dreamland--together formed the heart of the now world-famous Coney Island.