New York, NY
The Base Of The Parachute Jump
Photograph - Photographs
The Parachute Jump is a defunct amusement ride in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, whose iconic open-frame steel structure remains a Brooklyn landmark. 250 feet (76 m) tall and weighing 170 tons (150 tonnes), it has been called the "Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn". It was built for the 1939 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, and moved to its current site, then part of the Steeplechase Park amusement park, in 1941. It is the only portion of Steeplechase Park still standing today. The ride ceased operations in 1964 when the park shut down for good. The ride was based on functional parachutes which were held open by metal rings throughout the ascent and descent. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprout from the top of the tower, each of which supported a parachute attached to a lift rope and a set of surrounding guide cables. Riders were belted into a two-person canvas seat hanging below the closed chute, then hoisted to the top, where a release mechanism would drop them, the descent slowed only by the parachute. Shock absorbers at the bottom, consisting of pole-mounted springs, cushioned the landing. Each parachute required three cable operators, keeping labor expenses high.
Stanley Switlik and George P. Putnam, Amelia Earhart's husband, built a 115-foot-tall (35 m) tower on Stanley's farm in Ocean County, New Jersey, now the site of Six Flags Great Adventure. Designed to train airmen in parachute jumping, the first public jump from the tower was made by Ms. Earhart on June 2, 1935.
The Parachute Drop was patented by retired U.S. Naval Commander James H. Strong and Stanley Switlik, who were inspired by primitive parachute practice towers he had seen in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had been using simple wooden towers to train paratroopers since the 1920s, and despite the dangers of the Soviet design, which used just a single guide cable and sometimes found the jumper colliding with the structure, the towers were employed for recreational use as well. Strong designed a safer version which included eight guide wires in a circle surrounding the parachute. In 1936, Strong secured a U.S. patent for his design, and he built several test platforms at his home in Hightstown, New Jersey in 1936 and 1937. The military platforms suspended a single rider in a harness and offered a few seconds of freefall after the release at the top, before the chutes opened to slow the fall. Civilians showed a great deal of interest in trying out the ride for themselves, and Strong was quick to turn his invention to non-military use as well, making some design changes in the process: a seat that could hold two, a larger parachute for a slower drop, the metal ring which held the parachute permanently open, and shock-absorbing springs to ease the final landing.
Strong sold military versions of the tower to the Romanian and U.S. militaries. He installed towers at a New Jersey training center, probably Fort Dix. Four were later installed in Fort Benning, Georgia. One was toppled in a 1954 tornado. Two appear to be in use. He also converted an existing observation tower in Chicago's Riverview Park into a six-chute amusement ride. This enterprise, the "Pair-O-Chutes", did brisk enough business to inspire Strong to apply to build and operate a jump at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
The ride was built in 1939 for the World's fair, and towered over the fair's "Amusement Zone". The Life Savers company sponsored the ride, investing $15,000 and decorating the new tower with brightly lit candy-shaped rings. Eleven parachutes were used, leaving the tower with one empty arm. Adult riders paid 40 cents, children a quarter. The trip up took about a minute and the drop down was over in 10 or 20 seconds. The official 1939 Fair guidebook describes the ride:
Eleven gaily-colored parachutes operated from the top of a 250-foot tower, enable visitors to experience all the thrills of "bailing out" without the hazard or discomfort. Each parachute has a double seat suspended from it. When two passengers have taken their places beneath the 'chute, a cable pulls it to the summit of the tower. An automatic release starts the drop, and the passengers float gently to the ground. Vertical guide wires prevent swaying, a metal ring keeps the 'chute open at all times, and shock-absorbers eliminate the impact of the landing. One of the most spectacular features of the Amusement Area, this is also a type of parachute jump similar to that which the armies of the world use in early stages of training for actual parachute jumping.
At one point entangled cables left a Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Rathborne aloft for five hours; the next day they returned to ride again, probably at the behest of publicists for the ride or the fair. Another couple, Arno Rudolphi and Ann Hayward, were married on the ride in a celebrated "parachute wedding". The entire wedding party was suspended aloft until the newlyweds completed their vows and descended.
After the fair, the Tilyou family, owners of Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, purchased the Parachute Jump for $150,000. It was disassembled and moved to its current location adjacent to the Riegelmann boardwalk, between West 16th and West 19th Streets. The ride required some modifications in its new windier shore-side location.
The Jump, which attracted as many as half a million riders annually, was described as "flying in a free fall". Occasionally, riders could get "stranded in mid-air or tangled in cables", although sometimes this may have been for the amusement of operators. Nevertheless, the ride was fickle and subject to shutdowns on windy days, and was not very profitable. During World War II, when much of the city adhered to a blackout, the ride stayed lit to serve as a navigational beacon.
The Jump closed for good, along with Steeplechase Park in 1964, the victim of rising crime, neighborhood decline, and competing entertainment. There has been some confusion as to whether the Parachute Jump immediately stopped operating or continued until 1968. The New York Times issued a correction in November 2003, stating that a report in a column earlier that month "gave an incorrect year from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the shutdown of the ride. It occurred in 1964, when the rest of Steeplechase Park closed, not in 1968", while Kaufman's History says "The Jump continued to operate until 1968, part of a group of small scale rides operated on the now nearly vacant lot." The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation agrees with Kaufman, stating "the property was subleased to small ride operators and concessionaires, who ran the Parachute Jump until 1968." Subsequent research by Kaufman and others confirmed that the Jump did indeed give its final ride at the end of the 1964
The Pair-O-Chutes – Strong's earlier jump tower built at Riverview Park in Chicago – was demolished in 1968, leaving the Coney Island tower, even if inoperable, as the only such civilian tower in the world. The site barely escaped a condominium development by Fred Trump, but public opposition and the expense of demolition scuttled the project. The City of New York acquired the Steeplechase site in 1969, and control of the Jump passed to the city's parks department, which attempted to sell it in 1971. No buyers were found, and demolition was considered but eventually rejected, due both to the high price to the city that demolition would cost and to a nascent preservation movement. Organizations including the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and the Gravesend Historical Society made efforts to save the structure, which seemed to bear fruit in July 1977 when, after more than four years of consideration, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the tower a city landmark. The chairwoman of the commission took the opportunity to call it Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower. Hope for the tower's future was short-lived, though: only three months later the city Board of Estimate overturned the landmark designation, citing doubts about the tower's structural integrity. Demolition was again planned but never came to pass.
In 1980, the Parachute Jump was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1989, New York once again recognized it as a city landmark. Beginning in 1993, the City of New York painted and stabilized the structure, painting it in its original colors, but the structure still suffers from rust in the salt air. With Coney Island in a period of revival, including the minor league baseball stadium MCU Park next door, a $5 million restoration plan by the New York City Economic Development Corporation has been underway since 2002; as of 2003, the upper part of the structure was completely dismantled, and steel structural elements were being completely replaced as necessary. There has been serious discussion of making the ride operable. This would require significant redesign to meet modern safety standards, however, and expert amusement-ride consultants wonder whether this would be possible in a modern litigious environment.
The City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) assumed responsibility for the Jump in 2000 and in 2003 engaged engineering firm STV to rehabilitate the structure. STV in turn in 2004, commissioned Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD to develop a lighting concept for the Parachute Jump. Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD contracted Phoster Industries for the LED portion of the lighting project. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Office, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the City’s Economic Development Corporation, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD, and STV, comprised a partnership that worked for two years on the project - from inception to completion. On July 7, 2006, the lighting installation designed by Leni Schwendinger made its public debut, showcasing each of its six animated seasonal scenarios (featuring most spectral colors, except for green, which cannot show on the red painted tower). The computer-programmed scenarios reflect a calendar of local significance, such as the Boardwalk season (and non-Boardwalk season), and holidays such as the Mermaid parade, as well as natural phenomena, such as the lunar cycle. A scenario for American patriotic holidays is programmed for said celebrations, and for other holidays there is a sequence entitled "Kaleidoscope".
Officials state that the lights are to be left on from dusk to midnight during summer, and from dusk to 11 p.m. the rest of the year. In observance of the "Lights Out New York" initiative, during the bird migratory seasons the tower lighting goes dark at 11:00.
In 2005, the Parachute Jump was the focus of an architecture competition by the Coney Island Development Corporation and the Van Alen Institute which drew over 800 entries. The 7,800-square-foot (720 m2) Parachute Pavilion, at the base of the Jump, will be an all-season activity center including a souvenir shop, restaurant, bar, and exhibition space. The winning design team was Kevin Carmody,Andrew Groarke, Chris Hardie and Lewis Kinneir, of London. Their design follows strict guidelines to harmonize with the landmark structure, including a maximum height of 30 feet (9.1 m). As of 2006, this scheme has yet to be realized. Sometimes the tower can be seen lighting up rhythmically, sometimes as if in rhythm to the music played in nearby MCU Park.
August 20th, 2014
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