Amusement Parks in Silent Films / History Attractions


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One of my favorite things to see in old films is a glimpse of the amusement parks, rides, and attractions of Coney Island, Ocean Park, Venice and the like - as they were in the old days. Gosh - the rides, the fun houses, everything in those days looked so fun then - - I love amusement parks; the old funhouses particularly catch my interest. If only they'd invent the time machine!

Amusement Parks in Silent Films - List of Attractions Featured

more coming soon

  • Electric Edwardians - coming

  • The High Sign (1921), Buster Keaton - coming

  • Number Please, Lloyd - coming

  • Tire Trouble (1924) - Our Gang - scene filmed at the Venice Amusement Pier and features: a hot dog stand; front of "Noah's Ark" attraction (adults - 15 cents, children - 10 cents); "Air Blower"; wall front of "Over the Rockies"; front of "Puzzletown" where the kids pose behind a fake legs "photo opportunity" backdrop; Fun House where inside the gang goes through the rocking barrels, moving bridge, and ride the "Society Whirl" with slide (wood wheel you sit on and spin off of); rollercoaster ("Some Kick" - 10 cents); an airplane ride. Link to a map that shows the layout of Venice Pier, circa 1925. Film appears to also have been filmed here: Pickering / Lick Piers - Venice, circa 1923

  • Hindle Wakes (1927) - Blackpool

  • The Crowd (1928) - scene filmed at Coney Island, New York and features: night lights of Luna Park including lit "Tunnel of Love" sign and ferris wheel in the distance; ride in gliders ("the Frolic"??); trip through the Fun House including rotating barrel, "the Human Roulette Wheel", triple bump Big Slide, moving bridge; ride on the Steeplechase (?); Swan boat ride through the Tunnel of Love ("Do They Neck? Watch!") - - (note: Venice History Articles site says the Fun House scenes in this were filmed in Venice.)

  • Speedy (1928) - coming

  • Lonesone (1928) - coming

NOTES and TIDBITS:

- - - My memory of "Pacific Ocean Park" aka POP - we used to ride bicycles along a beachfront path in Venice in the early 70's and POP was still there but, sadly, all boarded up and in ruins with the tops of all the old rides and booths sticking up above the fencing that surrounded the area. Neat to see though and kinda spooky.

- - - Proof of time travel? - I have this neat book called "Santa Monica Bay - Paradise by the Sea" by Fred E. Basten (General Publishing Group, 1997) and in the center is a fold-out photograph of Ocean Park pier and beachfront taken in 1928 (this same photo is featured on the dust cover). On the far right side of the photo there is a couple walking along that, I swear, looks like they went back in time from the 1980s or 90s and visited Ocean Park, blending in with the large crowd there. No one else is remotely dressed like these two, the style looks wrong for the 1920s to me - so was this a real couple who just happen to look a wee bit different for the time, was the photo altered at one time to slip this couple into the photo as a joke (or maybe they actually came from the future?! Hehe - Hmmm). If you're reading this and happen to have that book, take a look (page 138) and see if you can find the couple I mean, and what you think. Well, this is an interesting image in any case.

- - - Memories: the amusement parks of my youth - as a life-long resident of Los Angeles (except for that year we lived in a California town called Marysville when I was three), my main theme parks in my kid/teen years in the 60s/70s were Disneyland and Magic Mountain (which opened when I was ten years old). Remembering the park attractions that aren't there anymore: at Disneyland the ride that is gone I remember the most is what I've always called "the microscope ride", but is actually called "Adventure Thru Inner Space" - long gone :< and what about the "Carousel of Progress" (my dad liked that, it was free!) - gone. Of course, I always enjoyed the original Submarine Voyage, which was closed and redone, I haven't been on the new one yet. I wonder if the Jungle Ride is still there in it's original form, I liked that when I was a kid. I remember "America Sings" and I remember quite well the "Country Bear Jamboree" (I first saw this one when it was brand new) - both gone. Okay, the ride called "Flying Saucers" looks like it would have been right up my alley in 1968 (the first time I went to Disneyland) - - too bad that attraction closed in 1967.



Film Reviews - Plot Summaries and Ratings

  • Tire Trouble (1924) - My copy (Video Yesteryear) is a Michief Makers version with all intertitles removed and the rather catchy music of "Rosa Rio at the Hammond Organ". The gang have made their own real car and are seen having a great old time driving the rickety vehicle every which way down Motor Avenue in Palms (the big "white house", brick building, and "dirt alley with old garage" - see location info on "Our Gang" page - can all be seen in this film). Later the kids help "cure" a rich old man of his sicknesses and gout by giving him a ride in their car through the old L.A. streets. The old guy actually takes over the wheel, pulls the top off the car (literally the entire top of the whole car!) and takes the gang to the Venice Pier for a trip through the fun house and a ride on the rollercoaster. Tire Trouble is a great short and loads of fun - full of lots of street scenes of old L.A. * 9/10 stars *

  • It (1927) - One of my fave silents, Clara Bow plays Betty Lou Spence, a girl from the poor suburb of Gashouse Gables who works as a shopgirl at the "world's largest store" - Waltham's. Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno), handsome son of Waltham's owner has just taken over as the new "boss" and while making his rounds to look over the store, Betty sees him and falls hard for the cutie-pie ("Santa Claus - give me HIM!"). She tries every trick to get him to notice her but nothing is working, but after overhearing Waltham say he is eating dinner at the Ritz that night, she accepts an invitation for dinner by a friend of Waltham's named Monty, a rich "old fruit" (hey, I didn't say it - he calls himself that as he looks in the mirror "Old fruit - you've got IT!"). Betty needs a dress to wear to the Ritz, so decides to slit open the black satin she is currently wearing, add a few touches like flowers and net veil for effect - and looks gorgeous. Off to the Ritz with Monty, where she spots Mr. Waltham eating with a blonde (introduced as one of the 18 million blondes in America currently getting ready to dine with a gentleman). Betty has IT so, of course, Waltham falls for her the minute he spots her. Next day they have a date at Coney Island - not exactly the kind of place he is used to - but they have a great time munching down hot dogs, going in the fun house, and riding the "Human Roulette Wheel" (that wood spinning thing everyone sits on and spins off of in old movie fun houses - I always wonder, didn't people get hurt when they got thrown off that thing?). They are in love. But - - Betty has a roommate, Molly, who is sick and has no job (and apparently no husband) - but has a baby. A couple of busybody old bitties arrive to try and take Molly's baby away from her - so loyal pal Betty tells the busybodies that the baby is *hers*. Monty overhears and tells Waltham who drops Betty, as apparently he can't go with a "soiled woman". He soon is overcome by her beauty though, so makes her an "offer" of diamonds, clothes, etc. in "trade" for, well, you know. She is offended. When the truth comes out that the baby isn't hers, she sets out with Monty to get even with Waltham, but ya just know this isn't a couple to be apart for long! Love this movie. My copy has a very nice piano score done by William Perry. * 10/10 stars *

  • Hindle Wakes (1927) - Plot Summary - In Hindle, Lancashire - "Wakes Week" is a week off for holiday after a year of drudgery in the cotton mills. Modern young Fanny and her gal pal Mary, two factory girls, go off by train to spend their holiday week in Blackpool, Britain's version of Coney Island. They meet up with two young men, one of which is Allan, he's the son of the wealthy owner of the cotton mill where the girls work and engaged to Beatrice, daughter of the Mayor of Hindle. Fanny and Allan immediately "click" as they spend a day of fun, including a spin on the dance floor that evening where they romantically appear to be falling in love. They stay out all night, then run away together to secretly spend the rest of the week alone in Llandudno - but as tragedy strikes, both their family's find out, and this film turns into a real soaper (gosh, Fanny has a mean mum - she beats up her daughter, and flashes her some really hateful looks too. All the girl did was spend a week with a man, and, I mean, he's handsome and rich to boot).
    Review - The first half of this film is absolutely terrific and loaded with neat photography - the camera strapped to the rides of Blackpool (hey, that tunnel slide they go down looks really fun to me!), the play of light over a huge dance floor full of hundreds of moving dancers, plus lots of close-ups of shoes - the shuffling feet of workers as they trudge into the factory, the dancing feet of the dancers gliding along the dance hall floor, even the shoes of Fanny and Allan as they wake up in the morning at the beginning of the movie, immediately revealing that one is poor, the other rich. The second half of the film drags slightly, but still I must say this is a terrific movie. The music, an orchestral score done by British group In the Nursery, gave this film a haunting, romantic, and tragic quality that suited the movie and, I thought, increased the enjoyment of the film. There is also an alternate piano score available on the DVD, done by Phil Carli. The DVD is from Milestone Films and has a black and white print that has a good amount of contrast and looks great. Really, really enjoyed this one. Rating - * 10/10 stars *

  • Speedy (1928) - Plot Summary - Silent comedy filmed in New York City and starring Harold Lloyd as Speedy, he has a girlfriend named Jane (Ann Cristy) and he loves the Yankees more than any job he ever has (which is plenty). Jane's grand-daddy, Pop Dillon, owns the last horse-drawn street trolley in NYC, and some bad men are trying to push the old guy into selling his business - but he won't budge. Meanwhile Speedy loses his job as a soda jerk, but doesn't care - 'cause after all, why worry about losing a job on Saturday when you can take your girl to Coney Island on Sunday?! A fun time is had at Coney Island including lots of food, games, and fun house attractions - they even meet up with a stray dog who ends up coming home with them (in the back of a moving truck as they have run out of funds by the end of the day). Next day Speedy gets a job driving a taxicab and following troubles and lots of comedic gags, he ends up taking Babe Ruth, in person, to Yankee stadium. Grand-daddy Pop must drive his trolley route once every twenty-four hours or risk losing the line - the bad guys find this out and steal the trolley car, but in the big finale Speedy gets it and races it through the city streets to save the day, with the help of some old-timers/Civil War veterans.
    Review - This is a terrific and highly amusing silent comedy - Harold Lloyd is my favorite silent comedian and I have seen this particular film probably close to fifteen times before, but the Cinecon screening featured a restored print that looked really great on the big screen. The orchestral score which accompanies the film was done by favorite Carl Davis, it's fantastic and suits the film to a tea. Luckily I already own the DVD of this version - hurrah! My most favorite part of the film is when they go to Coney Island, the whole segment features one funny gag after another - and I love seeing those early days of amusement parks and the neat rides and attractions they had then. Okay, I'm always intrigued when I see that spinning wood wheel (a wee bit of internet research by me has come up with "The Human Roulette Wheel" as the name of this - cool) that funhouse-goers used to sit on and get spun off of - I have always wondered if people broke an arm or leg sometimes riding that thing; looks fun anyway. Love the tons of on-location street scenes of NYC in this film - not to mention seeing Babe Ruth in this, who appears as himself. Rating - * 10/10 stars *




Links / Resources

Coney Island History Project

Coney Island History Articles

Venice History Articles

The Pike in Long Beach - rides and history.

Knott's Preserved

Yesterland - discontinued Disneyland attractions; Disneyland and other Disney park history.

Disney Submarines - history, Disney parks Submarine rides

Defunct Parks - abandoned amusement parks info.

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