Thursday, 4 June 2015

Luna Park

Back in the day, Auckland had its only version of New York’s Coney Island - a fully functioning amusement park on the waterfront complete with dodgems, a roller coaster, stalls and sideshows.
The equipment had come from the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, a world fair that ran in Dunedin from 1925-1926. Held at Logan Park, it was most spectacular in the evening when lights highlighted the growing use of electricity. According to Te Ara, it was the most popular exhibition in New Zealand’s history.  Note the "scenic railway" to the right in the image below.


H. and G. K. Neill for the Auckland Weekly News, Comprehensive view of the Exhibition at Logan Park, Dunedin, 26 November 1926, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19251126-43-1. 

At its closure moves were afoot to take advantage of the sideshows and thus was born the idea of an Auckland Luna Park. Luna Park was in fact the name of the very first amusement park on Coney Island, New York. 

Reclaimed Harbour Board land was chosen  although not without some opposition to the Board leasing the land.  In the Auckland Star, Thomas Bloodworth of the Board explained it thus:


“The evil of it is that for almost one generation the children of Auckland will grow up in the environment of an amusements park, open on six days of the week. This sort of thing, going on day in and day out can only be harmful. I think there is an opening for something of the kind during the summer but it should be located away from the business area, perhaps on one of the islands down the gulf where people would find it little difficult to reach (Auckland Star 1926, 9 June p 11). The following photograph is looking over towards Luna Park from Kings Wharf.


James D. Richardson, Looking south east by south towards Parnell Rise from Kings...., 8 March 1931, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-7856.
On its first day, an estimated 10,000 people visited to ride the scenic railway, the dodgems, the whip, the caterpillar and merry mix up. A tea room looked out over the harbour, there were stalls and sideshows and regular entertainment from visiting performers. In the evening a band played and the public could easily catch a council bus from the bottom of Queen Street. This image shows the view from the top of the scenic railway/roller coaster.


James D. Richardson, Panoramic view looking east from Luna Park, Quay Street east..., 1928Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-1730.
A year later the park was damaged in a fire which saw buildings burnt to the ground, “like matchwood. ” The NZ Herald reported:

“Flames flew skywards”
“Sheets of corrugated iron fell off in a shower”
“So great the heat, people could not get within a hundred yards of the burning building.”

In spite of the damage, Luna Park opened the next night with the damage areas roped off.
The following  year the park ran at a financial loss as the depression set in,  and rumours began to fly about its future.  The harbour board reduced the rent but even that saving wasn’t enough to keep it afloat and in early 1931 it was closed.

On July 22 of that year, the Herald reported:

"Luna Park, once the joy of Auckland's youth on pleasure bent, presents a sorry appearance to-day. Workmen are busy dismantling its gaily-decorated side-shows and devices… Demolition gangs are pulling down the scenic railway, where revellers were wont to rush through space 65ft. above the ground at a speed of 65 miles an hour. Over 500,000 passengers experienced the thrills of this exciting journey with varying misgivings as to their safety, but not a single mishap occurred…"

Wooden, horses, carved once of good willow, repose under gigantic tarpaulins, crestfallen now that the excitement, the laughter and the music is over... Thus has departed the glory that was once Luna Park.



Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre

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