Opened not long after WWII ended, what a relief it was for Queens families to escape the pressures of reality and spend time at Fairyland Park, which was located at 90-05 Queens Boulevard, within walking distance for Forest Hills and Rego Park residents.
Back in 1949, owner Bernard Berkley and manager Al McKee decided to capitalize on this highly visible 250 by 600-foot plot. The $350,000 investment was a gamble, but it paid off when an average of 15,000 people would attend “Queens' Largest Funland for Children” on a good Sunday.
Open year-round, amusement-seekers could enjoy 14 rides, including a roller coaster and ferris wheel, all priced at $.14 a ride. There was also a penny arcade and the Fairyland Spa, an ideal spot to relax and have a meal.
By 1953, Fairyland Park was generating $250,000 gross annually, and was one of the most successful amusement parks nationwide. Berkley and McKee then began to expand upon their initial vision, adding 10 more rides in the early 1960s.
But as successful as the business venture was, an increase in land value contributed to the park’s closure in 1968. Today, Queens Center Mall stands on the site of the old Fairyland.
Although there are no physical traces of Fairyland, members of a Facebook group, “I Remember Fairyland Amusement Park” are resurrecting its spirit. Colorado resident Karen Smith Pavone was raised in Elmhurst, and felt inspired to create the group in 2010. Since then, it has grown to include over 900 members.
“My mother's hospital room faced Queens Boulevard, and she imagined taking me to Fairyland one day,” she said. “I loved playing Skee Ball with my dad in the game room, and also enjoyed the Tilt-a-Whirl and the boats most.”
Florida resident Arthur Cohen was raised in Rego Park, and recalled his father taking him on the roller coaster and ferris wheel on Sundays. He recalled the era as “an idyllic time when kids were safe.”
“It was the time of Eisenhower and Camelot, before riots and Vietnam,” he said. “It represented stability, a middle-class well being, and I would end the day with an ice cream cone at 28 flavors of Howard Johnson's on my way home.”
“It was never gleaming, but the endearing simplicity of Fairyland gave it its charm,” said Sunnyside resident Hans Von Rittern, who was also raised in Rego Park. “I loved the little train ride that went around the outer circumference of the park. The train was so well made, and felt like a real train. A conductor sat atop the front car, and was so jolly.”
“You could do everything in an afternoon, and it did not cost hundreds of dollars per family,” said Brooklyn resident and Rego Park native Stacey Allam. “My cousin enjoyed all the rough rides, such as the roller coaster and the Whip, while I stuck to the fire engine and the merry-go-round.”
Woodhaven resident Karen Koenig, formerly of Middle Village, had an uncle who operated the ferris wheel.
“So we were able to get on the rides for free when he was working,” she said. “It’s sad that today’s young kids don't know the enjoyment of a small amusement park. All they have are large parks like Disney.”
Alan Seltzer, a native of Elmhurst can still hear “Tequila” by The Champs, which was what a juggler on a wooden stage would always perform to.
“In the arcade, tickets were distributed for prizes, so I came home with junk from spending dimes on Skee Ball,” he said.
Amusement park memories also reflect some challenging moments, as is the case for Florida resident Larry Calella, who was raised in Woodside.
“I went on the Rock-o-Plane with my older brother,” he recalled. “It had a ring that you pull to ride on a slant or upside down. I pulled too hard and it got stuck. I was upside down the whole ride and yelled for help.”
“Fairyland represented a time when Rego Park was new and developing,” said Rego Park native Gloria Nash. “We became acquainted with neighbors because of Fairyland, and who doesn't miss that connection?”