In King Kong, board­walk amuse­ment pier em­braces kitsch


Snort­ing smoke and wear­ing an “I love Wild­wood” T-shirt, King Kong again clings to a 18-me­ter light­house tow­er­ing over the shore town’s board­walk. Eight vintage planes cir­cle the go­rilla, bring­ing riders 8 me­ters in air.

For most of the 1970s, the gi­ant ape ride graced Morey’s Pier, only to be re­moved in 1980. This sum­mer, the fe­ro­cious beast re­turned to a New Jersey town known for em­brac­ing nos­tal­gia and trum­pet­ing its kitsch.

“Clas­sics like Kong mat­ter,” Jack Morey, sec­ond gen­er­a­tion part­ner in Morey’s Piers, said in an email. “Great amuse­ment parks fo­cus not just on the new, not just on the most daz­zling, scari­est ride, but on the old, too.”

High­light­ing a sto­ried char­ac­ter like King Kong is part of a trend in the amuse­ment in­dus­try, said Cyn­thia Sharpe, se­nior di­rec­tor of cul­tural at­trac­tions and re­search at the Thinkwell Group. In the 1980s, it was who had the big­gest coaster. Now it’s who has the big­gest in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, like “Harry Pot­ter” or “Star Wars,” es­pe­cially at theme parks, she added.

“Re­gional parks es­tab­lish re­la­tions with brands not as pow­er­ful as ‘Star Wars’ but brands that still have great res­o­nance for a per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion,” she noted.

But the dif­fer­ences be­tween the big theme parks and Morey’s Pier of­ten over­shadow the sim­i­lar­i­ties that go with tap­ping iconic fig­ures.

“We’re not a theme park,” Morey said. “What we do here is largely a rein­ven­tion of the world’s first parks and gath­er­ing places. Places like Santa Mon­ica Pier, Santa Cruz Beach and Board­walk, and Coney Is­land have a very dif­fer­ent, more sto­ried ex­is­tence and — and un­like gated parks — they have free ac­cess to the public.”

The late his­tor­i­cal ar­chi­tect Steven Izenour re­ferred to the Wild­woods as one of the last “down and dirty, tacky with a cap­i­tal T, beach re­sorts.” He meant that as a good thing, and the new ride on Surf­side Pier, one of three amuse­ment parks un­der the Morey ban­ner on the board­walk, takes tacky to new heights.

“In an in­creas­ingly ho­mog­e­nized com­mer­cial world, it’s the per­fect counter punch strat­egy and no­body, not even Dis­ney, can beat you at your game,” he said in a let­ter to Morey in 1996, a time when he and fel­low ar­chi­tects put the Wild­woods un­der a mi­cro­scope to cre­ate a blue­print for the re­sorts’ fu­ture. That fu­ture trum­peted rather than hid the kitsch, not just on amuse­ment piers but through­out the Wild­woods, where “Doo Wop” mo­tels born in the 1950s and 1960s are still cel­e­brated.

When Steve Lara ar­rived at Morey’s Piers last week for the 10th straight sum­mer, the Rochester, New York, res­i­dent looked for­ward to the King Kong ride.

“It’s a new and dif­fer­ent ex­peri- ence,” Lara minute ride.

Lara and his sons, An­drew, 13, and Matthew, 10, hoped for some­thing scarier or faster out of Kong.

“I thought we would con­trol the planes to go up and down,” Matthew said.

Added Steve, “But it’s ride.”

Those words are mu­sic to Morey’s ears.

“We are re­ally in the theater busi­ness,” he said. “Take away the peo­ple, and the place loses all its energy. So, yes, Kong is our latest new ride and a flash­back, but at its core it is just a mech­a­nism by which to make peo­ple smile, laugh, and re­lax away from the pres­sures of daily life at home.”

said about the two-

still a fun

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