Playland opens at Bitter Lake in north Seattle on May 24, 1930.

  • By Alan Stein
  • Posted 1/08/2013
  • Essay 3580

On May 24, 1930, more than 50,000 people attend the opening Playland, a gigantic amusement park at Bitter Lake in north Seattle. Even more people show up the following day, and amusement seekers will throng to its thrills until the park's demise in 1961.

Pay to Play

Playland was built at a cost of $750,000 -- but billed as a "million dollar pleasure resort" -- by the Washington Amusement Company, whose investors had already built similar amusement parks in Portland at Columbia Beach and Jantzen Beach. They modeled their parks after well-known East Coast attractions such as Coney Island, Atlantic City, and Rockaway Beach.

Located seven miles from downtown Seattle, Playland was easily accessible by both car and rail. The Seattle-Everett Interurban passed right next to the park, and for motorists, two parking lots held up to 12,000 automobiles. At the time of its opening, general admission to Playland was a dime, and kids under 12 got in free.

Plenty of Rides

The most noticeable ride at the park was The Dipper, a massive roller coaster that cost $75,000 to build. The Dipper -- designed by Carl. E. Phare (1885-1962) -- had a 3,000-foot-long track with reverse curves, 60-degree banks, and one virtual somersault. The roller coaster was 55 feet tall at its highest point, where it sent cars screaming downhill at close to 100 miles an hour.

The Red Bug Miniature Auto Course -- built for $15,000 -- gave motorists young and old a chance to drive any one of 25 mini-cars around a quarter mile racetrack. A similarly named ride, The Bug -- built for $35,000 -- featured six teacup-shaped cars that held up to eight passengers each and whipped around a circular track. The Giant Whirl -- built for $15,000 -- spun up to 30 passengers around on swings at the end of 80-foot chains. Other rides included Canals of Venice, The Glider, The Dodgem, The Buzzer, The Frolic, The Fun House, a Merry-Go-Round, and the Miniature Scenic Railroad.

Dancing and Dining

Playland also had an enormous dance pavilion, with 9,600 square feet of maple floor, built with lumber from the Stimson Mill. Bill Darby's orchestra, a jazz band that opened the playground at Jantzen Beach, was hired as Playland's dance band, and their opening week's shows were broadcast over KOL radio. For the rest of the season, they performed nightly, and their concerts were piped throughout the park on a public-address system. Admission to the dance hall was 25 cents during the day and 50 cents in the evening -- for men only. Women were allowed in for free.

Those wanting to spend all day at Playland were able to take advantage of a large picnic area with free cooking gas and plenty of room for automobiles. A nearby soda fountain sold Sunfreze ice cream and Fox Snappy Drinks, an exclusive for Playland. Adults could also buy cold bottles of Rainier Beer's new Number 6 Brew.

Playland was a big hit with funseekers, but the Washington Amusement Company had sunk too much capital into building it just as the Great Depression hit. In the less than a year, investors sold their lease to Carl Phare, who continued to operate the park with various partners until it closed in 1961.


"Playland, Big Amusement Park to Open Saturday," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 14; "Red Bug Course at Playland Has No Speed Limit," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 14; "Playland Place to Banish Business Cares and Worry ," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 14; "Music by Band Will Go to All Parts of Park," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 15; "Playland Literally Built on Man's Quest of Thrills," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 15; "Playland Offers Free Picnic Area," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 15; "Resort Reports Careful Choice of Dairy Foods," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 15; "Giant Whirl May Prove of Aid to Budding Aviator," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930, p. 15; "Playland Now Opens; Laughs Peddled There," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 25, 1930, p. 7; "Attendance at Playland Sets Record," The Seattle Times, May 26, 1930, p. 4; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Playland -- Seattle's Amusement Park (1930-1961)" (by Louis Fiset), (accessed December 31, 2012).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.

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