Crescent Park Amusement Park
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The park featured a large midway full of amusement rides, games, and food stands. At one end of the midway was the famous Alhambra Ballroom, where many big bands played in the 1930s and '40's. At the other end of the midway, on a bluff overlooking beautiful Narragansett Bay was the world famous Shore Dinner Hall which could seat two thousand people at one time. The Rhode Island shore dinner that made the hall famous included Maine lobster, Rhode Island clam chowder, clam cakes, fish, corn, and all the trimmings. Many famous entertainers performed on the bandstand overlooking the water. Fireworks were displayed on the 4th of July. The crescent-shaped beach was always crowded with bathers in their old-fashioned bathing suits.
Crescent Park Looff Carousel
One of the best rides on the midway was the 1895 Charles I. D. Looff Carousel. This incredible ride, perched inside one of Looff's traditional hippodrome buildings, contains 61 hand-carved horses, one camel, and four dragon-chariots. The carousel, was rescued when the park was sold at auction, fully restored, and is operating today to the delight of thousands of children, young and old alike. In 1985, the Rhode Island General Assembly proclaimed the carousel as "The State Jewel of American Folk Art".
In 1886, with just sixty-five dollars in his pocket, George B. Boyden, one-time proprietor of the Vu de L'Eau hotel in nearby Silver Spring, began to build an amusement park, across the street from the Bullock's Point Hotel in the Riverside section of East Providence, Rhode Island. Two years later, Charles I. D. Looff, a master carver and manufacturer of carousels, established a summer residence nearby. Looff was building merry-go-rounds at his Brooklyn, New York factory after coming to America from his native Denmark. Looff built Coney Island's first carousel in 1876.
Eventually, Boyden bought the hotel and changed the name to the Crescent Park Hotel. He then contracted with Charles I. D. Looff to build a carousel at the head of the 400' pier that jutted out into the bay. Steam boats from Providence, Rhode Island and Newport, Rhode Island would disembark loads of passengers onto the pier for a happy day at the park. Shore dinners were served in the huge new dining hall. Searle's Famous 6 O'clock Bake cost 60 to 84 cents and ran from 12 noon until 8 p.m.
Charles I. D. Looff built another, larger carousel at the head of the midway across the street from the hotel. This became his famous 1895 showpiece where Looff's prospective customers would select the style of carved horse for their new merry-go-round. Thompson's Scenic Railway, a Tickler ride, and a Flying Eagle ride were installed around 1900.
In 1901, Hope Land Company bought Crescent Park and quickly sold it to Colonel Randall A. Harrington, who in 1888 had leased Rocky Point Amusement Park, in Warwick, RI across the bay. Harrington built a huge exhibition hall at the eastern end of the midway. This 300' by 110' structure later became a music hall, roller skating rink, and finally the Alhambra Ballroom. The New England Association of Arts and Crafts, Inc. held their first Annual Exposition in the hall. The exposition's brochure proclaimed the attendance at over 1,500,000 and that this was the only place in New England that the U.S. Government had ever exhibited. Included in the exhibitions was a demonstration of the U.S. Mint, the U.S. War Department, and the Treasury and agriculture Departments, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco.
In 1905, after the City of New York took his Brooklyn property by eminent domain to build a city park, Charles I. D. Looff moved his factory to Crescent Park. Looff built a workshop onto the existing carousel building and produced many classic merry-go-rounds for the New England area and across America.
In 1910, Looff moved his manufacturing operation to Long Beach, California, leaving his eldest son, Charles, to manage his Riverside interests. After Col. Harrington's death in 1918, young Charles bought Crescent Park. He built a Rivers of Venice boat ride that was a favorite with young lovers. He also opened up the floor space in the Alhambra Ballroom by installing huge trusses in the roof and removing the many columns supporting the roof. The hard-maple floor made a wonderful dance floor. Looff built a river excursion boat and named it the Miss Looff in memory of his youngest sister, Anna. When young Charles Looff died in 1925, the Beacon Blanket Manufacturing Company purchased the park.
The New England Hurricane of 1938 demolished the Crescent Park pier and the southern half of the giant wooden roller coaster. A slightly smaller coaster was rebuilt with salvaged timbers. The pier was rebuilt only to be devastated again by Hurricane Carol in 1954.
In 1951, a group of park concessionaires, led by Arthur R. Simmons and Fred J. McCusker bought the park. Many improvements were made to the midway, including the River Boat ride, the old-time Iron Horse train ride, the auto Speedway, the Sky Ride, Flying Fish, the Satellite ride, the 1865 Hotel, and a new and improved kiddie-Land. Other rides featured at the park were the roller coaster, Tumble Bug, Bubble Bounce, Dodgems, Flying Cages, Ferris wheel, Helicopter, Flying Scooters, New Orleans dark ride, Tilt-A-Whirl, and The Whip (ride). McCusker's Pop Corn and Salt-Water Taffy stand operated for many years at the head of the midway opposite the carousel.
Teresa Brewer, the recording artist, appeared at the park for the "Miss Rhode Island Redhead" contest. Free shows on Sundays included such entertainers as Amos 'n' Andy, Bobby Vinton, and characters from TV's Gunsmoke and the Munsters. During the 1940s and '50's, Charley Weygand and his orchestra played several nights a week in the Alhambra Ballroom. The Democratic Party of Rhode Island held their annual summer convention every year at Crescent Park. Many nationally known politicians came to speak at this huge affair.
In 1966, Crescent Park was sold to the investment company of Berry, Sugarman, and Paolino. They installed a miniature roller coaster called the Comet which was designed and built by Ed Leis, a veteran roller coaster builder. In 1969, they sold to Fairbanks Industries, Inc. of Brookline, Mass, who also owned Pleasure Island in Wakefield, Mass., and the Rustic Drive-In in North Smithfield. On September 2 of that year, the Alhambra Ballroom burned to the ground. Several years later, the company filed for Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws. In 1976, the Crescent Park Looff Carousel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. When the park property was auctioned off in 1979, a dedicated group of local citizens, led by Gail Durfee, Jobelle (Tracy) Aguiar, Richard Lund, Linda McEntee, and Robin Peacock rescued the Looff carousel from being sold off piece-meal. The carousel was fully restored and reopened in 1984 and still operates every summer under the watchful eye of long-time ride manager, Ed Serowik and his son.
In 1985, the Rhode Island General Assembly proclaimed the carousel as "The State Jewel of American Folk Art". In 1987, the National Park Service designated the carousel as a National Historical Landmark. The remaining park property was eventually developed into apartment complexes, houses, and small parks with several memorials of what once occupied the grounds.
- Rob Lewis; Ryan Young (1998). Rhode Island Amusement Parks.
- Rob Goldsack (1993). A Century of Fun — A Pictorial History of New England Amusement Parks.
- William Mangels (1952). The Outdoor Amusement Industry — From Earliest Times to the Present.
- Frederick Fried (1964). A Pictorial History of the Carousel.
- Manns, Shank, and Stevens (1986). Painted Ponies.
- Tobin Fraley (1994). The Great American Carousel.
- The Carousel News & Trader. November 2010. p. 20.