Crescent Park

During this park’s 90-year run, it entertained millions of New Englanders as well as people from all over the world.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

A 90-year history is a long, long time for an amusement park. Visitor’s tastes change, new rides need to be added all the time to keep up, and prices need to stay competitive to keep families coming back more than once a year. More and more, parks were becoming destinations in other states, not in your own backyard. Local attractions had to work quite hard to keep an audience.

On the night of September 2, 1969, the large Alhambra Ballroom fell victim to a horrible fire. Soon after, the park tried to woo the thrill seekers by adding a menacing ride called “The Turbo.” Changing tastes, lack of care, financial problems, and local pollution in the bay all contributed to the death of the beloved Crescent Park in 1977. A large auction was held in March of 1979. The Carousel was doomed to be torn down with the rest of the park, but for the valiant efforts of “The Crescent Park Five” — local residents Gail Durfee, Jobel (Tracy) Aguiar, Richard Lund, Linda McEntee, and Robin Peacock. The Crescent Park Carousel Commission still operates the 100+ year old masterpiece of Charles I.D. Looff.

#Current Events

The Looff carousel is still in operation. The hand-carved carousel was built in 1895 by Charles I. D. Looff at his Brooklyn, New York factory and installed at Crescent Park Amusement Park. The ride’s fifty-foot platform contains sixty-one horses, one camel, two single coaches, and two double chariots. Fifty-six of the horses are jumpers. It is among the finest and least-altered of Looff’s surviving carousels, serving as a showcase for his workmanship. Hours of operations are available on the Carousel website.

Crescent Park became the site for which Looff built and shipped his carousels across the country. Buyers came to Crescent Park and picked out the kind of horses they wanted duplicated for their own carousels.

The carousel is inside a traditional circular hippodrome building with onion dome. Sunlight floods through multicolored clerestory windows and reflects off of faceted mirrors to create a magical kaleidoscope effect. An Andreas Ruth und Sohn Style 38 band organ, imported from Waldkirch, Germany, provides music from a Wurlitzer 165 music roll system.

#History

The “Coney Island of New England” originated under the foresight of Charles Boyden. The shores of Riverside (then called Wannamoisett) were becoming dotted with summer cottages, bath houses, and a grand hotel. Riverside was a destination for many vacationing families. Steamboats and trains from Providence and many other areas brought thousands of visitors to the shores of East Providence.

Boyden opened the Crescent Park Resort in 1886 around the 400-foot Bullocks Point Dock. Boyden wanted to get people off the beaches, so he contacted the famous wood carver Charles I.D. Looff and commissioned a Carousel that would become to be the cornerstone of the park which grew in size and scale.

Boyden sold the park resort in December 1898 to liquor dealers Jeremiah Sullivan and Robert Tobin of East Providence. The “George B. Boyden Crescent Park Corporation” would bear his name, and he would be manager for the next season, but he had no financial interest in it. Boyden would sever all connections in 1901.

Boyden soon set his sights on a new park, calling it “Boyden Heights” around 1901 on the former grounds of Ocean Cottage, one of the first of the shore dinner halls in Riverside1. The new park mirrored Crescent Park in many ways, with boardwalks, a pier, rides and fancy dinner and dance halls. But the venture almost immediately ran into trouble, going bankrupt after only a year in operation.

Crescent Park stayed open under new leadership and became famous for its’ shore dinners, bandstands, roller skating, boat rides, large midway, roller coaster, haunted houses and many other rides and attractions. In 1901, the Hope Land Company purchased the park. Under the leadership of Fred Dexter, the majestic “New England Association of Arts and Crafts Hall” was built in 1902. Dexter died in 1906 and Hope Land Company appointed R.A. Harrington to run the park. The park was bustling with patrons that were brought from trolleys and steamships from all over New England and New York. In 1914, the son of Charles I.D. Looff (Charles Looff) designed and built the new “Shore Dinner Hall”.

In 1920, Charles Looff, Jr. took ownership of the park. The younger Looff began expansion of the park by adding a roller rink and the “Alhambra Ballroom”. Young Charles had worked for his father and was a great horse carver in his own right, extending his creative talents to build other rides at the park including a small roller coaster, the Flying Toboggan, across the midway from his father’s 1895 carousel. Crescent Park’s first dark ride was named “Rivers of Venice”, installed in the 1920s, located halfway down the midway. The ride was planned to resemble Venice, Italy but the interior of the ride hosted scenes of world history including the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Looff Jr. died in 1925. Beacon Manufacturing assumed ownership, but had moved their operations south. John Clare was appointed manager of the park. The park remained under this structure for over two decades. During this time, Dominic Spadola was building many of the enchanting rides of this New England treasure. Rides such as the “Tumble Bug” and others were crafted by Mr. Spadola. Crescent Park hit hard times in the war years (1941-45). Attendance was way down and materials were scarce. In 1951, the park was purchased by the Crescent Park Realty Company. Management responsibility of the park now belonged to Arthur Simmons and Fred McCusker.

Simmons and McCusker revived the park by updating many of the attractions that were decaying from the lack of attention during the previous decade. One of the managers of the Park, Ed Serowik, said in a film about the park, “Wood from the old roller coaster was used to build the River-Boat ride.” A lot of maintenance was needed to get the park into shape. The Park flourished again in the 1950s and into the 1960s. The “Kiddie Land” was spruced up to attract families back to the park. The ballroom was renamed the “Sugarberry Lounge.”

Harder times were ahead, however. In 1962, the Satellite ride broke free of its axis and injured several visitors. In 1966 the park was sold to Melvin T. Berry. On September 2, 1969, the large Alhambra ballroom/Sugarberry Lounge caught fire and burned to the ground. The park kept open but started to decline as time moved into the early 1970s. Changing tastes, neglect, and financial difficulties made it hard for the park to survive.

George LaCross of LaffInTheDark.com said, “For those of us growing up nearby, Crescent Park wasn’t just an amusement park, it was a way of life. And the park had a very short life if you were born in the mid-1950s; it closed after the 1977 season.“

Fact checker

Fact checking provided by historian Bruce Remick. For years he has been researching the resorts and hotels in Riverside and has compiled a book, ”Rhode Island: Riverside’s Historic Shore Resorts and Hotels”. Sources have been daily newspapers from the late 1840’s through around 1920. Mr. Remick can be contacted for questions or to request a copy of his book at remick [at] cox.net.

Sources

  1. Wikipedia, Crescent Park. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescent_Park_(defunct_amusement_park)
  2. Wikipedia, Looff Carousel at Crescent Park. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescent_Park_Looff_Carousel
  3. “Rhode Island Amusement Parks”, Rob Lewis and Ryan Young, pp.41-46. Arcadia Publishing, 1998, (Google Books).
  4. Kathy’s Amusement Park page (Angelfire, now defunct)
  5. “Riverboat Ride: Crescent Park, Riverside, RI”, George Malone for Laff in the Dark, captured August 15, 2020. https://laffinthedark.com/articles/crescent/crescentpark.htm
  6. “The Coney Island of the East Coast: Crescent Park, Vanity Fair, Boyden Heights, Hunts Mills”, Bob Rodericks for Reporter Today, captured August 15, 2020, published August 6, 2013. http://reportertoday.com/stories/The-Coney-Island-of-the-East-Coast,5466
  7. “Neighborhood of the Week, Boyden Heights was once home to amusement parks”, Alex Kuffner for Providence Journal, captured August 16, 2020, published Jan 5, 2018. https://www.providencejournal.com/homes/20180105/neighborhood-of-week-boyden-heights-was-once-home-to-amusement-parks
  8. Thanks to people on eBay selling postcards for the scans.
  1. Vue de L’Eau next door was the first area shore resort, in the 1840’s — about ten years before Ocean Cottage.