In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Playland's waterfront area of Westchester County along the Long Island Sound was the site of a growing collection of recreational developments, including hotels, resorts, and "amusement areas". Local residents concerned about what a county report described as "unsavory crowds" induced the Westchester County Park Association to purchase two existing theme parks, Rye Beach and Paradise Park, and planned a local-government-sponsored amusement park in their stead.
Frank Darling, a veteran park manager with experience at Coney Island and the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, was hired to design and run the new park, called Playland. The well-known NYC architectural firm Walker & Gillette and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke were commissioned to produce a comprehensive design of both buildings and grounds, making Playland the first planned amusement park in the country. Their asymmetrical beaux arts plan integrated Playland’s three major components. The first component, a swimming park, is defined by a semi-elliptical beach, boardwalk, and arcade. At the center of this arcade, a Spanish Revival bathhouse and pool terminates the automobile approach along Playland Parkway and its twin towers frame a view of Long Island Sound. The second component, an amusement park, is laid out along an axial landscaped mall at roughly 90 degrees to the Parkway approach. An entrance plaza with central fountain at the beach end of this axis is defined by corner pavilions and anchored by a casino and ice rink building. The axial mall is flanked by colonnades which serve to visually organize the various rides, games, and restaurants on each outboard side. A midway cross-axis terminates in a gate at the large parking lot on its inland end and at a promontory at its waterside end. The main axis terminates in a 100 foot tall Music Tower that now has a performance stage at its base. All original amusement park buildings are in an Art Deco style. The third component, a boating lake, lies beyond the tower. Its boathouse consists of two pavilions symmetrically flanking a central colonnade, facing a terrace and boat dock and the lake. Construction commenced in September 1927 and was completed in six months. The park began operation on May 26, 1928.
Built in 1929, the Dragon Coaster serves as the park's mascot and appears in the Playland logo. The Dragon Coaster is one of roughly 100 wooden roller coasters still in operation in the United States.
The "Ice Casino", built in 1929, originally contained a main ice rink as well as a full dance floor on the second floor that functioned as a dance hall through the 1940s and '50s. It also had a full service fine-dining restaurant and an outdoor café. It had smaller dining rooms upstairs for upscale private dinners. A renovation in the 1970s added a kiddie rink as well as a mid-sized ice rink. A renovation to the main ice rink that included a new surface, boards and glass was completed in 2007 for the Empire State Games.
Playland is home to the "Grand Carousel", a 1915 Mangels-Carmel carousel. It has four rows with 48 jumpers, 18 standers and three chariots. It was originally in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved to Playland when the park opened in 1927. The Grand Carousel has a rare band organ built by the Gavioli company in Italy. The organ enclosure features two male figures that strike bells in time to the music while the central female figure moves a baton. The Grand Carousel contains designs including those on the horses that are completely hand-carved and painted by Charles Carmel from Brooklyn, New York. The horses possess many unique traits that include elaborate "fish scale" blankets, inlaid gemstones, armor and lolling tongues on several.
Playland is also home to one of only three "Derby Racers" still in existence. The Derby Racer was built in 1927 for Playland by Prior & Church with horses carved by Marcus Charles Illions, a turn of the century New York carousel horse carver. The Derby Racer rotates at 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) - three times the speed of a normal carousel. The horses move back and forth as well as up and down, simulating a true gallop as it races around the track. The other "Derby Racers" are located at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio; and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, in Blackpool, Lancashire, United Kingdom.
The Dragon Coaster, Playland Amusement Park's iconic attraction, is a wooden roller coaster which was opened in 1929. Designed and built by amusement ride creator Frederick A. Church (also the co-inventor of the Derby Racer), the Dragon Coaster has approximately 3,400 feet (1,000 m) of track and is approximately 85 feet (26 m) tall at its highest point. It has a tunnel along its span, a common feature of wooden roller coasters from the 1920s. The tunnel resembles the body of a dragon, and the opening of the tunnel resembles a dragon's mouth. The dragon has eyes that light up, and it blows steam from its nostrils. Playland Park removed the classic Prior and Church trains in 1989 and replaced them with Morgan trains because the P.T.C.s did not have up-to-date safety technology such as lap bars and other items. The Dragon Coaster is still in operation to this day and is classified as one of the park's seven "classic" rides, along with The Whip and Ye Olde Mill (an indoor dark boat ride involving gnomes).
In 1927, construction began on the Airplane Coaster, overseen by Frank W. Darling. It was originally thought that the Traver Engineering Company had been responsible for the construction of this ride; however, in 1983 the original blueprints, signed by Fred Church, were discovered in an attic at the park, disproving the Traver Company misconception. Known originally as "Airplane Dips", its name was changed to "Aero-coaster" and then finally to "Airplane Coaster". The ride was dismantled in 1957.
Playland is also home to the Kiddie Coaster, built in 1928. It is an ACE Coaster Classic.
In 1966, a major fire at the amusement park claimed some of Rye Playland's all time classic attractions, including the original Bumper Car ride and the "Magic Carpet" Funhouse.
Playland was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
The latest coaster to be installed is "Super Flight", in which the rider lies on his or her stomach, in a caged car with three other people, all in a single row. Cars are released one at a time, allowing multiple cars to be at different spots on the coaster at the same time. The coaster contains two 360 degree turns, giving the riders a zero-gravity experience.
Until the beginning of the 2002–2003 National Hockey League season, the New York Rangers team practiced at the Playland Ice Casino. Currently, the hockey team from Manhattanville College, located in nearby Purchase, New York, plays its home games at Playland.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy claimed parts of Rye Playland's boardwalk, flooded and caused substantial damage to the Ice Casino, and scattered debris throughout Read Sanctuary.
In August 2010, Westchester County, the owner and operator of Playland, announced they would be sending out RFPs (requests for proposals) in order to solicit ideas for the possible redevelopment of Playland, in an effort save the county money. Playland has been costing the county of Westchester anywhere between $3 million and $5 million annually to operate for the last decade. The county is trying to determine the best use for the land, whether that means it should remain an amusement park or become a more passive park. Westchester County has affirmed its commitment to keeping the Playland site public park land and there will be "no condos" at Playland according to county executive Rob Astorino. In recent years the park's attendance has dipped due to the recession, poor weather and the park now charging an admission fee. Any redevelopment of the park would require a majority vote from the county's board of legislators as well as state officials. On February 2, 2011, PlaylandWatch submitted the first proposal in response to the Westchester County RFP.
There were a total of 11 proposals submitted for the RFP:Boardwalk Arts of Rye
State Fair Group of Bellville, NJ
TPC Rye, a division of Paidia Co. of Baton Rouge, LA
Central Amusements International of Boonton, NJ
ASATI/Stonehill, a joint venture of Air Structures American Technologies of Rye Brook and the Stonehill Group of Westport, CT
Standard Amusements of New York City
Valentine Creative Marketing of Rye
American Skating Entertainment Centers of Elmsford
Sustainable Playland of Rye
Q Properties of Norwalk, CT
Playlandwatch.org (no address)
Playland features entertainment performances on its main stage on the north side of the park towards Manursing Lake. 2006 included the dance show Oh-Zone as well as Magic and Spice featuring magician Brendon Yancey. In 2007, it had New York Nights and Shakin' at the "High School Hop", a Grease-style performance. In 2008, dance shows included I Hear America Singing, a mix of new pop songs, and Summer Cruisin, a mish-mash of 1950s and 1960s music.
There is also strolling entertainment including kids dance and singing shows, costumed characters and drum acts that occur multiple times a day.
Playland offers fireworks on Friday nights.
Playland features a free concert series every summer that is sponsored by tri-state radio stations, Pepsi, CulinArt, Manhattan Beer Distributors, Westchester County and the Westchester County Parks Department. The free concerts are usually on Thursdays and Fridays in July and August.
In 2007, Plain White T's performed on July 31, Bowling for Soup on August 9, and Teddy Geiger on August 23. The Plain White T's attracted a very large young crowd.
In 2008, four free concerts were scheduled at Rye Playland. On May 24 the new Menudo performed. On July 18 Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, George Lamond, Kim Sozzi and DJ Serg performed. On August 7, second runner up on American Idol Elliott Yamin performed. Finally, on August 14, British pop star Natasha Bedingfield performed to a capacity crowd despite the rainy weather.
In 2010, Shontelle performed for a very large, young crowd on August 4, 2010.
Past free concerts at the park include Joan Jett, Lifehouse, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, Daniel Bedingfield, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and Cheap Trick in 2004.
The Westchester County Police provide security throughout the year, but the park is only officer-patrolled 24/7 from April to October. In addition to county police, the park employs seasonal park rangers. Playland has its own EMTs, but paramedic and ambulance services are provided through Port Chester - Rye - Rye Brook - Emergency Medical Service. Westchester County Police also provides policing services throughout the off-season. The Rye Fire Department handles all fire and rescue call at Playland.In 1988, an 8-year-old girl choked to death while chewing gum on the ride.
On May 22, 2004, a 7-year-old girl from New Rochelle was killed when she fell out of the ride after she opened her restraining bar.
On June 29, 2007, a 21-year-old female park employee from White Plains was killed when the ride was started by a second employee while the victim was still assisting guests with their safety restraints. Park officials stated that a safety precaution (put in place after the 2004 Mind Scrambler incident) was not followed. A report issued by the State's Labor Department on August 24, 2007, stated that the ride operators were running the ride improperly. The ride owner was cited for providing inadequate training. Due to this incident the Mind Scrambler was closed permanently.
In the 1920s, a 19-year-old man was killed after being flung off The Whip.
On August 3, 2005, a 7-year-old boy from Norwalk, Connecticut died of blunt force trauma to the head after he climbed out of a boat on the Ye Old Mill ride, where he became trapped underwater by a conveyor belt. The victim's family sued the county that owned Playland, and on March 24, 2009, the defendants were ordered to pay US$1.25 million, as well as create a scholarship in the victim's name. The scholarship will be awarded annually to the Playland employee who exhibits excellence in safety and customer service.
On July 4, 2006, a 43-year-old woman from Queens drowned after walking into a man-made lake that is off-limits to swimmers. An autopsy showed the victim had a blood alcohol level several times the legal limit.
As of July 2016, there are five roller coasters at Playland:Dragon Coaster - Wooden - Built in 1929 - 3400 feet of track - 80 feet high - Approx 45 mph
Super Flight (Zamperla Flying) - Built in 2004 - 1282 feet of track - 26 mph - 2 inversions
Crazy Mouse - Steel (wild mouse) - Built in 2003
Family Flyer - Steel - Built in 2001 - 262 feet of track - 13 feet high
Kiddie Coaster - Wood - Built in 1928
The 1984 film The Muppets Take Manhattan features a scene filmed in Playland, although the scene is set in Michigan.
Playland was the amusement park featured at the end of the 1988 movie Big starring Tom Hanks. The scenes of his date with Susan and at the end of the film where the "Zoltar the Magnificent" fortune teller machine returns the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being were filmed on Playland's boardwalk.
Playland appears in a scene from the film Fatal Attraction with Glenn Close.
The park is featured in the Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown (1999) starring Sean Penn.
In 2004, the Playland beach was used for the film Tenderness with Russell Crowe, released in 2008.
The park was mentioned in passing in comparison to Adventureland amusement park on Long Island in the 2007 film Music and Lyrics.
Playland's Dragon Coaster was used as the backdrop for the closing monologue in the Jodie Foster film The Beaver.
"BET Now" taped a series of episodes from around the park including the pool, beach, boardwalk, Double Shot and Carousel on Friday July 25, 2008. The episodes aired the week of July 28, 2008.
The third episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark", takes place in an amusement park called Playland; it was not filmed at the actual park, however.
The Naked Brothers Band made a free live appearance at Playland on Friday, August 24 at 6pm on the Music Tower Stage. They were taping an episode for the second season of their Nickelodeon show.
In 1980, the entire amusement park was used for a storyline on one of Procter & Gamble's soap operas that they produced - CBS's/ABC's The Edge of Night.
On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall accepts a job at a law firm in "I'm Not That Guy" where his only client will be Tuckahoe Funland, which is a parody of Rye Playland.
On Mad Men, Glen Bishop stops by the Francis household to ask Sally Draper to come to Playland with him for the afternoon in episode 88, "The Forecast". Also in episode 12 season 4 "Blowing Smoke" Henry and Betty are talking about moving, Henry states "I always like that place in Rye. Bobby reponds "Rye isn't that where Playland is"?
In the episode "The Good Life" of the Showtime series Billions, Bobby Axelrod takes his kids to a theme park called "Kiddyland." The park is actually Playland, and the Dragon Coaster is briefly shown in the scene.
In The Nanny, Fran Drescher's character Fran Fine mentions Rye Beach Playland in conversation.
Mariah Carey filmed 1995's "Fantasy" music video, including appearances on the Boardwalk, the Dragon Coaster and the parking lot.
Hot Chelle Rae played their last known concert on July 25th, 2014.