During very low tide at Anchor Park in West Seattle, one can see the remnants of pilings jutting out of the sand. This, as well as an ornate, 100+ year old carousel, now in California, are all that remain of a grand amusement playground called “Luna Park”. It dazzled everyone in 1907 when it opened, with its bounty of lights that could be seen across the water at night in Seattle, surrounding its many rides and attractions. In spite of this, the amusement park was only open until 1913, plagued with difficulties (explained later). The pilings were driven into the tide flats so a boardwalk could extend over Elliott Bay below Duwamish Head.
Luna Park came into being because of a master carver and builder’s vision: Charles I.D. Looff. He had previously created the very first Coney Island carousel and also amusement ride in New York, and initiated a new style of carving, plus profitable business. Amusement parks were considered new and “cutting edge” for the masses, since most people were still riding horses and driving buggies, and many rural homes didn’t have electricity or a telephone. Ferries, called the Mosquito Fleet (because they were small and quick) and a new streetcar connected West Seattle to the mainland at this point, which is how visitors reached the excitement of Luna Park.
A roller coaster and other rides, a new live theatre production weekly, Seattle’s first manned flight location, and, of course, the merry-go-round were all part of the attraction. There was even a human baby incubator, Cave of Mystery, as well as a bear pit. One of the biggest draws was the “Natatorium”, indoor pools with both seawater as well as fresh water for swimmers.
Luna Park ran into trouble for a number of reasons: They had the largest stocked bar in all of Elliott Bay that was boisterous at night, and the resulting poor behavior upset the locals. West Seattle had recently been annexed to Seattle, which meant there were more restrictions. They were sued for injuries that incurred, including one man falling from a ride and breaking his neck. As we all know, the winds can be fierce during the winter along Alki Beach, so the park wasn’t as busy at that time of year. And rides stayed closed for months while waiting for parts to arrive by boat. Eventually sales dwindled, the owner grew frustrated and sold his shares, and the rides were taken down and removed in 1913. The Natatorium was renamed “Luna Pools”, and continued for public use until 1931 when an arsonist burned it down. And that’s how Anchor Park was born in the early 1950’s—the hollow pool wells were filled in with concrete.
Mr. Looff’s hand-carved Zeum carousel from Luna Park still spins today at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, CA. A 1909 carousel he created for his daughter Emma and her husband’s wedding gift is still in operation in Spokane, WA. And you can walk between those pilings at Anchor (or Luna) Park when the tide ebbs low, and ponder history.