For years I've heard stories from my father about the clackety-wooden roller coaster they used to have at The Pike in Long Beach during the Depression, when it was billed as the largest and fastest ride of its kind in the U.S. The dual-track Cyclone Racer, which was suspended by pilings over the water, reigned from 1930 to 1968. Now the Weekly's favorite city councilwoman wants to bring it back.
Our May cover girl Gerrie Schipske has placed an item on the Oct. 1 City Council agenda urging her colleagues to seriously consider a proposal by project designer Larry Osterhoudt to create Cyclone Racer 2.0 for Long Beach.
“Mr. Osterhoudt has an exciting proposal for bringing back what he calls 'The World's Greatest Ride' and placing it either near the Aquarium or the Queen Mary,” Schipske says in a statement. “This would not only bring back an important part of Long Beach's early history but would produce significant tourism dollars, not to mention a lot of fun.”
The original Cyclone Racer attracted 30 million riders during its history, and Schipske states that based on her review Osterhoudt's idea to re-create the roller coaster and Silver Spray Pier could once again make Long Beach a serious Southern California tourist attraction. Osterhoudt, using Google Earth maps, has even identified potential locations for his 2.5-acre project: adjacent to the Lighthouse south of the Aquarium or next to the Queen Mary. He also claims to have secured investors.
Schipske's statement notes that Long Beach has in the recent past “failed to seize many economic opportunities offered” by Port Disney, Tesla Motors and the porting of the U.S.S. Iowa. “Bringing back a cyclone roller coaster could potentially revitalize the Queensway Bay development and provide additional synergy for the Aquarium, Shoreline Village and Pine Avenue establishments,” she writes. “We need to check this out.”
An amateur historian, Schipske relates that Long Beach had sought as far back as 1902 to become a major tourist destination with the opening of the Pine Avenue Pier, Pacific and Electric Trolley, a Walk of a Thousand Lights and a grand public bathhouse. The city got its first roller coaster in 1907, followed in 1915 by the opening of the Jackrabbit Racer in an area known as Silver Spray Pier, where the coaster extended over the ocean. After Coney Island in Brooklyn introduced a cyclone coaster in 1927, Long Beach followed with the Cyclone Racer in 1930. My dad would have been a rider not too long after that.
Let the coaster competition begin again because, as Schipske notes, “Ironically, the Economic Development Corporation of New York has just announced it is rebuilding the 'Thunderboldt' roller coaster on Coney Island as a way to help bring Coney Island back to being one of the top tourist destinations in the world.”
She then throws down the cotton-candy gauntlet.
“We can't let Coney Island out do us.”