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The opening day crowd in 1956 experienced a Palace jammed to the gills with pleasure machines, dancing to the cadence of dinging bells and popping pistons and swishing trains, the hurdy gurdy rhythms of the Wurlitzer organ and the call of barkers, the flash and blinking of lights and the sizzling smells of burgers and hot dogs, a place no longer of Ernest Schnitzler or August Williams or even of 1955. This Palace was sophisticated, adjusted to the standards of the modern universe, and then some.
|The new Fun House in 1956, with the Bubble Bounce (lower right). Photo courtesy of Ralph Lopez Jr.
The old-timers found a few familiar points of reference - the carousel in its traditional place, the Charcoal Pit snack bar, and of course the rotating wheel going 'round and 'round, but otherwise, newness ruled.
THE CAROUSEL HOUSE: 1956
CATERPILLAR, ARCADE GAMES
Absolutely no trace remained in the Carousel House of the Fun House or Hell 'N' Back, the third-generation dark ride. In their place, four feet north of the carousel, Lange and Resnick installed a Caterpillar, a huge train and track ride 50 feet in diameter, manufactured by the Allan Herschell Co., of North Tonawanda, NY. The train resembled its namesake as it ran along a track full of dips, and as the speed increased, a canvas top painted in a caterpillar design appeared from nowhere and enclosed the riders in semi-darkness. The ride was situated so that one half, including the entrance, was in the Carousel House and the other half was in the Cookman Avenue expansion, including the exit.
|Facade of the Fun House. Undated photo courtesy of Sam Vaccaro.
Games and other small amusements filled the Carousel House, most prominently, a large bank of game machines next to the entry to the Caterpillar and, closer to the carousel, a collection of rotary merchandisers. Always popular and a big money maker, the rotaries featured a round, rotating play field; if a player perfectly timed the movements of a mechanical arm, a prize fell through a chute and out of the game.
THE COOKMAN AVENUE EXPANSION: 1956
ROCK-O-PLANE, FOOD CONCESSION
As passengers exited the Caterpillar, they confronted the Rock-O-Plane,
a ride which took the Palace a quantum leap forward in terms of white knuckle capacity. Painted fire-engine red, this scintillating rotator had two-person cabs attached to arms which spun at a high speed. The cabs flew through an opening in the Palace roof, 45 feet above the ground, and at the command of dizzy and disoriented passengers, flipped upside down. For reasons which are not entirely clear, Palace owners placed a food concession just north of the Rock-O-Plane, occupying the Cookman-Kingsley corner.
|Young boys, too small to ride the Rock-O-Plane (early 1960s). Photo courtesy of Sandy Berman.
BUBBLE BOUNCE, TROPICAL SHELLCRAFT
Directly west of the food court was another tummy tumbler, the Bubble Bounce. Shiny cabs sat atop a rapidly rotating disc, 40 feet in diameter, and as two large pneumatic pistons surged in and out, the disc rose and then dropped with a hydrolic hiss that added to the sensation. Over time, the ride proved to be a maintenance nightmare for Palace mechanics but remained popular with passengers who swirled their cabs at will.
Partially obscured from view by the Bubble Bounce, in the far northwest corner of the expansion, was Tropical Shellcraft, a sea shell shop operated for at least two years by Mrs. Lange, wife of the co-owner.
Even in the hubbub over new rides, the most dominant, majestic and defining of the additions was the new Fun House, a magic castle laid out in the area occupied years earlier by the arcade, Donkey Ride and Wax Museum.
The facade soared nearly to the roof trusses, all ramparts and belfries and murals painted by Ralph Lopez Sr., including an eclectic scene of a princely magician standing over the inclined Sleeping Beauty. Towering over this kaleidoscope was the head, upper torso and hands of a bearded, mustachioed giant with blue eyes, a bright red nose, and grin that suggested secret motivations and hidden pleasures.
|Head of the Fun House giant. From the Peter Szikura Collection. Photo copyrighted by Frank Saragnese. view larger image
Classic features from the old Fun House found their way into the new - including air holes, the rotating barrel, the jail with the pontificating politician on the roof, and an updated version of the old Dizzy Room. However, as laid out by Edward Lange, the labyrinth inside dwarfed its predecessor in size, with a huge amount of animation distributed throughout a multi-level maze.
WALKWAY BETWEEN THE COOKMAN AVENUE, AND LAKE AVENUE EXPANSIONS
Palace owners kept, and updated, the existing shooting gallery with pump guns, .22 short ammunition, steel deadening plates and swinging targets, and moved the whole attraction into the walkway which connected the two expansions, just south of the new Fun House.
THE LAKE AVENUE EXPANSION: 1956
The 8,300-square foot expansion fronting onto Lake Avenue contained three major attractions: Ghost Ride, the latest version of the dark ride; the Twister, popularly known as the Rock and Roll; and the Auto Skooters, now in a room of their own with a view of Wesley Lake.
The Palace creative team lead by Ralph Lopez Sr., built Ghost Ride in a location where the dark ride, with Pretzel cars and track, would remain, in one form or another, for the next 32 years. The ride started in the northeast corner of the Lake Avenue expansion, abutting the back of the Lyric Theatre, wove in and out for nearly 100 feet in a westerly direction, then looped southward for another 50 feet, until twisting and turning to the exit, back near the entry. To put passengers in a properly frightful frame of mind, Ralph Lopez Sr., created as the entryway a huge gorilla head, made entirely out of cement. Little is known of the interior scenes and animations, but at least some are believed to have been transferred over from Hell 'N' Back, which seems probable given how little time there was to accomplish the entire remaking of the Palace. The creepiest moments were the "spider threads" dangling across your face in the dark hallway and the "rubber springs" brushing against your legs. When Worth Thomas painted the words "Tunnel of Love" among the names of attractions on the Cookman Avenue facade, it was a generic reference to Palace dark rides, since none ever officially had the Tunnel of Love title.
Five years before Chubby Checker recorded the song that put the twist onto American dance floors, the Allan Herschell Company produced a new ride that made the most of twisting dual action centrifugal forces. The Palace bought one of the first seven Twisters and installed it to the left of Ghost Ride, against a hillbilly backdrop that preceded by a number of years the famous repainting by Ralph Lopez Jr. in a style reminiscent of Peter Max. As described by Amusement Todayís Scott Rutherford, Twisters consisted of "eight free-spinning cars attached near the front of the undercarriage to beefy steel sweeps radiating from a center mast. Supported atop elongated steel rollers, the cars moved around a flat carbon steel track that was slightly inclined on the rear half of the platform. Although the cars could seat five passengers (two in front, three in back), Twister aficionados widely left the front compartment empty so as to offset the carís center of gravity." The twisting actions of the passenger carriages flung passengers with an outward force as if to fly.
In the southwest corner of the Palace, Lange and Resnick created an 82' by 34' room with mirrored walls, and installed an expanded fleet of Lusse Auto-Skooters. Widely considered by enthusiasts to be the best bumper car in the world, the Auto-Skooters were fashioned after late model automobiles with head and tail lights and front wheel drive. A trolley pole with electrical contact was located on the rear of each car. The cars drove easily and bumped hard. Or as one driver said, no one was your friend once they got behind the wheel.
THE CRYSTAL MAZE BUILDING; THE ROTATING WHEEL BUILDING: 1956
PINBALL, SKEE BALL
With the Auto Skooters in their new home, Lange and Resnick converted the ground floor of the Crystal Maze into a huge game room, dominated by a bank of pinball machines close to the western side of the rotating wheel. To the east of the wheel was a long row of Skee Ball machines. These were electromechanical, with flip scoring registers; each machine had a ticket dispenser on the bottom left side of the alley, and as players scored points a bell would ring as the tickets fed out automatically.