Interview with Dark Ride and Fun House Artist
Ralph Lopez Jr.


 

If the name of Ralph Lopez Sr. or Jr. does not ring a "bell" in the Dark Ride history, it is because, they were largely un-noticed with the greats such as Bill Tracey, Old King Cole, P.T.C., Pretzel Rides and many others. Recently, the "I-Ride" Team had the pleasure of sitting down with Ralph Lopez Jr. and talking "Shop" about both the Palace in Asbury Park as well as Dark Rides in general. Here are some highlights from our conversation:


TOL: When and where did your father get his start in the amusement business Mr. Lopez?:

Ralph Lopez Jr. : "My Father did a lot of work in Coney Island NY, at the defunct "Luna Park" but he was "born" into the business as his Dad and my grandfather and grandmother both were employed by "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show"! After Coney Island, my father worked for the now defunct Steeplechase Park in Asbury Park".

TOL: So he worked at Steeplechase in Asbury, then onto the Palace for the old owners, and then Eddie Lange, who bought the Palace and turned it into what it had been best known for, along with his son George Lange? "Yes, my dad and Edward got along very well, and grew up together as much as both myself and Edward's Son George did. We were all friends, and, because of my dad, I too had the chance to get into the amusement business, and what better place to be then Asbury Park".

TOL: What was your Fathers biggest trait, and how would you best describe George Lange Sr. as well? "My dad was first and foremost an artist. Many "Old-timers" may remember the Gold-leafed horse that sat upon the palace roof and was lit up at night for a very long time. Also, if you had a chance to see what the palace carousel looked like under years of paint, it originally had gold leafing, also done by my father as well. He could take something like a $5.00 mangles carousel Horse, and turn it into a Gold-Leafed, wonderful looking prop that sat upon the Palace roof for many years! He was very talented, and there wasn't too much that he didn't have his hand into in the Palace. George Lange, I had the pleasure of growing up with. He was both a fine Man, as well as a good friend! He learned the business from his dad, in as much a way that I did, and we both took a very personal interest in the Palace after both our dads reached the point of retirement. George ran a clean park, there was never one single light bulb out, never a speck of trash to be seen, and he ran a first-class operation. We all miss him dearly.

TOL: For those readers that don't know, George Lange Sr. recently passed away, and while we here at TOL both feel very saddened over this loss, we also note that the Palace became the magical place that it was due to both his vision of the Park, as well as his undivided caring about everything that the Palace was. He is sorely missed, but we feel that he is somewhere looking down still upon the Palace grounds. Mr. Lopez, IM sure you have some very funny stories to tell about the Palace, and growing up with George Lange, want to comment? "Well, both George and I were "Jokers" to a certain extant. I remember the two of us sneaking into the building, late one night, and trying to terrorize the night watchman by tossing soda bottles around the building, and watching him run around trying in vain to find the culprits! George and I also liked to sneak into the back employee hallways of the Fun House, and watch couples going through the back, dark section of the Fun House and trying like hell to scare any couples that we saw going down the hallways! Funny stuff for its time!"

TOL: What was the first ride that you were allowed to design all by yourself? "I got to work on just about everything inside of both the palace as well as the Casino, but the first facade I did ride wise was the "Haunted Castle", which was a chore as the old facade of the "Haunted Caves" was still in place, and I had to build the new facade over the old one. George Lange wanted this theme, so I went with it. I also designed the back artwork and lighting for the "twister" ride, and modeled it after a very "Disco-Type" look and feel. I also did the artwork on the Palace doors, and animated the Elephant, Rhino and Tiger that everyone seems to remember. These 3 props were stagnant pieces, bought from N.Y. City. My dad restored the Carousel in the Palace, but I was one of the last to refurbish the Carousel in the Casino. I loved that ride allot. All in all, there wasn't too much I didn't, at one time or another, have a chance to work on, much like my dad."

TOL: Are there any other parks that both yourself and your father did work in? Yes, we both worked on the wonderful carousel that is long gone in Keansburgh amusement park in Jersey for a nice man up there (Editors Note, for Al Fasnaught that still owns the oldest operating Pretzel Dark Ride, the revered "Spook House") and we helped to d the facade work for a Pretzel up in Point Pleasant Beach, called, I think: "Darkness of The Sea". The ride's facade was very narrow, and it was located under the boardwalk, and featured a rather large "Giant Fish" that I helped to animate as well as adding Giggling Gertie figure too. There was also a great classic stunt, a Baby sitting in a rocking cradle."

TOL: This ride didn't last too long did it, as I've been told that there were at least 2 other Pretzel's operating in the boardwalk area of Point Pleasant? Probably not, and I remember that parts of this ride's facade got sent elsewhere in the state."

TOL: The Tunnel readers now know about your great work in Asbury park, but what other Amusement Parks did you, yourself get to work in? Well, I worked at Canobie lake, New Hampshire on the "House of Seven Gables", refurbishing the ride as well as the facade. I think Bill Tracey also had a hand in doing that walkthrough. I also worked at Paragon park, Hull Mass. on the Mill Chute, Dark Ride, "Kooky Kastle", and built a new walkthrough Fun House called "Magical Mystery Tour" for the parks owner.

TOL: What was the "Magical Mystery Tour" like as IM sure that fans and enthusiasts of Paragon Park don't remember this short-lived attraction that well! I was asked by the parks owner whom shall remain nameless, to build him a nice modern walkthrough Fun House in a former park building. As it was the crazy early1970's, I came out with a design to build a very "Beatles Rock Band and Hippie" style attraction. I built this ride to contain both twisting hallways, spinning discs, a barrel at the end, as well as Black Lit crooked rooms with a kind of techno sounding music track that was played both inside and out! Well... needless to say, the owner hated the ride for its huge facade sign that twisted to the right and was made out of sauntered light boxes, with a "Candy Cane" type signage. He even went as far as doing exit interviews with kids that came out of the building, asking them what they thought of it, trying in vain to find anyone who would have hated my ride, but, after a line formed for 3 blocks long, with kids waiting to go into my creation, waving fists full of tickets, I guess his question was answered by yet another one, "What does this result in? Answer: Money!"


TOL: I've been told that you did a wonderful Fun House that used to stand on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights N.J. for the Casino Pier, what was that like? I got to create a nice and rather large Fun House that sat right across from the rides on the pier. I had complete control and included a wild looking facade with a pink color, complete with Castle like Turrents on the top with also a zebra style top wall, very cool looking, and a real head turner. It cost well over $80,000 to make, and at that time in the mid-1960's, it was real expensive to build. . I had both Barrels, shifting boards, a tilt room, clever lighting effects, animation's and every classic gag maker inside of the building. It didn't last too long though.

TOL: Are there any past designers that you feel were very good, or companies that you respect today? I like the stuff that "Amusement Display Creators" did, very artistic would be the word IM looking for about Ivans creations, way different in his look of his props. I also like the props from Old King Cole, we had the "Giant Face" on the Fun House inside the Palace.

TOL: Did you try and venture outside of Dark Rides and Fun Houses and try your own amusement business at any time? I built and tried to operate a shooting Gallery, but it seemed to rain the entire summer I operated it, so I gave it up!

TOL: What have you been doing since leaving the palace when the Lange family sold the park? I've kept extremely busy by designing restaurants, buildings and doing artwork as well. I've been blessed with great creativity, which is always in demand. I've also recently built an entire Christmas Display, with a neat looking Gingerbread house, all built out of Foam! IM also doing some work in Ocean City NJ for a few select shops as well.



TOL: What do you think were some of the things that were done first by your father, then copied later on by others in the whole scope of the Dark Ride field?
For starters, my dad was Id rather venture to state, the first to use Alcohol based as well as UV paint. Remember, he went all the way back to the Old defunct "Steeplechase park" in Asbury, he installed one of the last rides built at that Park, the "Old Mill" in the mid-1920's. He also built the old "Swan Boats" that everyone remembers that graced the outside of the Palace too. I also feel he was one of the first to build props in the North East in celastic. He was one of the first to use Black Lights in Dark Rides as well. One of the coolest, yet simple stunts he did was to have UV responsive decorations, such as something so plain like say 100 stars hanging on walls, that were charged with Black Lights. Once a Dark Ride car was about to enter a hallway, the Black Lights would then cut off, leaving some glowing starts, or decorations shining very strongly for riders. Once the car passed out of the room, the Black Lights would then turn back on to recharge the items.

TOL: Amazing, very much along the lines of how the now famous "Skull Rooms" in both the Knobel's Grove "Haunted Mansion" in PA as well as the Rehobeth Beach, Funland "Haunted Mansions stunts are operated, almost in a reverse type manner. How much of the "Magic" of the Palace was created by both George Lange, as well as his father Edward? I think much, much more than the Lange family is given credit for. For instance, while my Dad drew up the artwork for both the Orient Express as well as the Whacky Shack, it was George who wanted to build both Dark Rides, and did in fact help build the facades by hand. He had a very positive manner in which he both operated the Palace, as well as keeping it both looking pristine, and changing it just enough to keep it fresh and competitive. He was a great man, with my father as his "Right Hand Man" standing next to him as well.

TOL: What do you feel about any chance of the palace making a come back, and what is your opinion about any such future that the palace, or Casino may have? Well... that's a tough question for me to answer, as I love the Palace dearly, but. as I've recently been able to walk though the palace as I have a friend whom is a city councilman, I can rather boldly state that the building is in complete shambles, and would need a ton of work to make it operational. I applaud all the groups who have been working very hard at making "Saving" the Palace a reality, but I think the building is completely shot. I also think though, that, as a pillar of any "new" development in Asbury Park, a much better and cheaper plan would to be to try and renovate the dormant Casino Building. It is just, if not more pretty than the Palace building, and its in much, much better shape. Imagine the palace carousel, spinning in that wonderful round front part of the Casino at Night, that would be much more feasible than having to completely restore the Palace. And, besides, with the Orient Express, Haunted Castle, machinery and mechanics from the Carousel and Props from the Fun House all, long gone, it may never be the same.

TOL: Any other works in the progress that you may want to tell the readers of www.tunneloflaffs at this time? Yes, while IM very busy with several projects, one thing I may start to do soon is to both, re-create and market, one-of-a-kind Laffing Sal' style props to the Amusement Business world. I would make each one by hand, one t a time, and customize each one, as both an historic Park piece, but also as a conversation piece and prop. I can see several Traditional parks purchasing one to have in the Park as a throw back to days of yesteryear.

TOL: Wow! This is big news! How can any interested amusement parks contact you about buying a custom re-creation of Sal'?!? They can contact me through the Tunnel Of Laffs website, as this is a website I both enjoy and remain friends with.

TOL: Any parting words of wisdom before we let you get back to work on Mrs. Sal'?!? I've enjoyed the amusement business very much, including all the both wacky and wonderful people I've met over the years. I've also been very fortunate to work alongside of both my father, Ralph Sr. as well as George Lange Sr., two wonderful men who gave allot to make people happy. And I look very forward to making a whole new generation of Amusement Park fans happy with my Laffing Sal' creations in the near future, the little lady is getting ready to Laff yet again!

TOL: Thank You Mr. Lopez for giving us Tunnel of Laffs readers a real look inside both the palace, as well as the historic work that both yourself, as well as your father, Ralph Lopez Sr. and George Lange created in both the Palace as well as several other amusement parks, including the vanished Asbury Steeplechase Park as well. Best of wishes with your new re-creation's of Mrs. laffing Sal' as well. I think you will be highly successful in selling and marketing her. Interested parties may contact Mr. Lopez through this website. Is this not "The Greatest Story Ever Told"?

 
 
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