Myrtle Beach - Astro Needle Park

8th Avenue North/Chester Street

This narrow park opened in 1970 along 8th Ave. North, stretching from Chester Street to King's Highway. It featured a 200' Astro Needle, a Gyro Tower type ride with a rotating gondola that climbed up and down it for a spectacular view of the area. Also in the park was a Space Monster dark ride, Moonwalk, proposed dolphin tanks (which never worked out), a large 10,000 square foot bumper car arena ("BUMPEM CARS"), and various other carnival rides.

For many years, the Astro Needle was the tallest structure in Myrtle Beach. It was included on many postcards of the downtown entertainment district, becoming a dramatic landmark second only to the Pavilion itself.

[Click here for a much higher resolution version of the 3rd picture.
Thanks to Michael Andrews for the 5th picture]

In late 1960s, Mr. Herbert R. Alcorn, Sr. of Park Real Estate, Inc. in Blacksburg, VA, formed a business partnership to develop and construct this and other amusement attractions. Leisure Way Industries, Inc. also developed the chairlift at the Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky.

The Astro Needle ride was selected for this new park after a visit to the Central Pier in Atlantic City, NJ to view a similar ride, made by Universal Design Limited of Cape May, NJ. This ride, with a double-deck cabin (the upper deck was rarely open) had been in operation since 1966. Construction of a 200' tower ride started in 1969 in Myrtle Beach. Due to the sandy soil and the height of this ride, the pilings had to be sunk 80 feet into the ground to reach bedrock.

The tower and park opened in 1970. Soon afterward, the old Myrtle Lodge hotel, as seen behind the Astro Needle in the second picture above, was torn down and replaced by the bumper cars and other amusements. The Astro Needle ride itself was located directly on the 8th Ave. North/Chester Street intersection, on the northwest corner. The tower gondola holds up to 30 people, and slowly rotates as it climbs the 200 foot tower, giving a spectacular panoramic view of the entire Myrtle Beach area. At the time, it was the tallest structure in the area.

The new park also included several carnival rides, and the "Space Monster" dark ride, with a facade likely designed by master dark-ride builder Bill Tracy. Over the years, the rides were removed and a variety of other attractions were tried, like a dolphin tank, and the 'moon bounce' shown above. In later years, the Space Monster dark ride was removed, and a t-shirt shop was opened in the building.

In the mid 1970s, the bumper cars were cased in to form a building, which was the Sunshine Express nightclub/disco. This was open for a few years, and employed Ray and Randy Alcorn, Herbert Alcorn's sons. When the park was sold in 1981, the club was changed to 'Mother Fletchers', this building was their home at least through the 1984 season; it later moved to the old Seaside Cafeteria building on the corner of 7th Ave. N and Ocean Boulevard, where it operated until it closed in 2004.

The park was sold in 1981 to Myrtle Beach Farms, which continued to operate the rides for a short time. They proved to be unprofitable, so the rides were gradually taken down. Chester Street was closed off in 1992, and the entire block, with the Joyland Motel, a bank, and other remaining buildings, were torn down and the Pavilion amusement park expanded all the way to King's Highway. The Astro Needle was placed in storage in a Pavilion warehouse; it's current status is unknown.

Pavilion Amusement Park as seen from the Astro Needle, 1980. Reflections of the cabin windows are barely visible. Downtown area includes Ripley's BION Museum, Castle Dracula Wax Museum, MB National Wax Museum, and a banner across the Pavilion announcing the new Enterprise ride. For a much larger and detailed version of this picture, Click here.
Pavilion Amusement Park as seen from the Astro Needle, 1980. The Pavilion, the middle of the park, the Cork Screw coaster and other rides near 8th Ave. North are now visible as the cabin slowly rotates.
Thanks to Melvin Brafford for these and other MB pictures!

Sometime in the late 1970s, a large outer-space oriented dark ride called "Flight Thru Space" was put on top of the Bump-Em cars ride.. It was like a cross between a dark ride and a small roller-coaster; during the middle of the ride, the cars emerged into the open middle section, fell down a small dip, then back inside-- it was very fun. The ride was shaped like a huge, tall (30-40' or so) box, with a black outer-space front, with 2 rockets on each side.

I vaguely remember hearing that this ride was moved to Virginia Beach. There was also a ride named "Flight Thru Space" at the Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem, VA; this ride was removed from the park in 1979, and may have been the same type or even the exact same ride.

The Astro Needle ride in Myrtle Beach was one of several such rides built in the late 1960s and 70s. Other known rides similar to this one were located in Niagara Falls, Wildwood NJ, and the Main Street Pier in Daytona Beach, Florida.

These rides were designed by an unknown mechanical engineer in Philadelphia, who was quite old at the time they were constructed in the early 1970s. For some time afterward, he was able to diagnose and fix problems that the local repairmen- mostly elevator repair crews- could not. It is likely that all of these were built by Universal Design Limited, a company based in Wildwood NJ. In 1958, Alan Hawes of Cape May, NJ formed UDL to develop monorails systems which were installed in 10 amusement parks, including the 1968 Hemisfair in San Antonio, TX, Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA, Ocean Playland in Ocean City, MD, and the Philadelphia Zoo. They also made these sky towers and chairlift-type sky rides, few of which are currently operating. UDL also made haunted-house/dark rides in a division headed by legendary dark-ride designer Bill Tracy.

Niagara Falls - Clifton Hill

For many years, the popular Falls Tower was part of the Niagara Falls skyline. Like the similar towers, this one had a 30-person gondola which rotated around the 150-foot shaft as it travelled up and down. In its last year, it was supplanted by the Skywheel ferris wheel built nearby.

In January 1967 Mr. Malcolm Howe, the proprietor of the Movieland Wax Museum proposed building an observation tower on Clifton Hill. UDL built this tower on property owned by Welland Securities Property Limited- 4946 Clifton Hill, located along the south side of Clifton Hill halfway between Victoria Avenue and Falls Avenue.

The tower measuring a total height of 184 feet tall was named the "Space Spiral" during its early years. It later became the "Falls Tower", in service under the management of HOCO Entertainment & Resorts. Both the Falls Tower and the newer Skywheel are owned by Niagara Falls developer Harry Oakes, of HOCO Ltd. It was decommissioned after October 9th 2006, and dismantled on November 23rd 2006 as part of a $100 million redevelopment plan for the area. The exact spot of the Falls Tower was developed into the new "Fudge Factory".

Wildwood, NJ

After being non-functional on the Fun Pier for many years, this tower was taken down on May 6th, 2009. It was advertised as being 147 feet tall, but when dismantled, it was closer to 120 feet. Pictures of the tower, with it being taken down, are online at:
Fun Pier Sky Tower on the Wildwood Boardwalk
Wildwood Boardwalk

Daytona Beach, FL

Another similar tower ride is located at the Main Street Pier in Daytona Beach, Florida. This particular tower is 180 feet tall. There is also an old-style chair lift "Sky Lift" ride which takes people to the end of the 1000ft pier and back. These two rides were added to this historic pier by Harry Doan, who bought the pier in 1966.
Second picture courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
On May 22, 2005, the tower ride stuck, leaving a couple stranded 77 feet in the air. A worker was able to lower the ride, and the couple was rescued by local firefighters when the gondola was within reach. The ride was closed until repairs could be made.
Since the accident, the ride sat non-operational through the 2011 season. The gondola sat the pier level and was used as a gift shop. As part of the 2012 pier renovation, the tower and the Sky Lift ride were removed. Some large rusty pieces had been falling down from the tower, and it was taken down in September instead of being renovated and restored to operation.

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