Following the devastation it suffered from the force of the September 1938 hurricane, Rocky Point Park needed some glimmer of hope if it were ever operate again. After nine years of uncertainty, it was announced that Frederick Hilton and Joseph Trillo planned to rebuild. Hilton eventually sold his share to Vincent Ferla, and one of the first things the new partners did was hire John Cecil (Jack) Ray to design the reborn amusement park.
A world renown designer for amusement park fronts, show fronts, exhibitions and fairgrounds, Ray’s modern, yet surreal structures gave Rocky Point another ray of sunshine it needed.
According to the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC) Jack Ray was born in Worksop, England in 1911. At the age of 13 his family immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta. Two years later Jack began working, assisting theatre artists. At 19 years of age he started his own business designing displays for exhibitions. He worked for an American theatre circuit, a Broadway producer, Warner Brothers and the burlesque shows of the Minsky brothers. He was later was hired as a sign painter and soon after began designing show fronts for the Canadian National Exhibition in 1937 and the Conklin (fair) road show in 1939.
Ray soon opened a studio in Toronto, John C. Ray Studio – Commercial and Industrial Design and worked out of his home on North Linsmore Avenue in the neighbourhood of East York. He supplemented his income by working as a staff artist for the Toronto Star during the winter. In 1938, he expanded his creativity into the amusement park industry, at Palisades Park, New Jersey. This launched new opportunities he never could have imagined.
“By 1947, Ray had 10 years of design experience and learned from the challenges of designing for a travelling show as well as the tastes and habits of people. He brought new ideas to the midway, new materials and a full color palette to produce midway fronts that were seen as modernist,” writes the VMC. “Other amusement parks took notice of Jack’s work and soon his skills were in high demand.”
Among those taking notice were Belmont Park in Montreal, who hired him to modernize a number of their show fronts and rides.
And of course, Rocky Point Park reached out to Ray shortly after. During the park’s soft opening on June 12, 1948, patrons were enchanted by Ray’s use of colors and patterns.
According to the VMC, Ray treated his parks to ” a color schemes of greens, yellows and oranges. Yellow was not a color traditionally used in carnivals and midways due to a superstition that began in early theatre days where the devil was portrayed as wearing yellow.”
While Ray’s design work shared similarities among his parks, every park had its own signature item. In the case of Rocky Point, it was the “spiraling white towers”.
According to the VMC, Ray’s design work would culminate in 1962 with the “Gayway” amusement zone for the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle World’s Fair. Almost ten million people visited the fair, making the “Gayway” the most commercially successful World’s Fair midway ever.
Ray died in December 29, 1963, of a heart attack following surgery. He was only 52.
He was posthumously inducted into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Hall of Fame in 2000.
In addition to Rocky Point, Ray left his mark on other New England amusement parks including the former Whalom Park in Lunenburg, MA (below)
And the former Lincoln Park in North Dartmouth, MA.
Meanwhile at Rocky Point, most of Ray’s 1948 design work was removed by the time the park closed in 1996, as evident by the Skooter building that year, below.
Reflecting on the impact Ray’s work had at Rocky Point Park, take a gander at some of his other projects around the world.
Virtual Museum of Canada
Virtual Museum of Canada
Anita Cerri Ferla
You Must Be This Tall movie collection
Rhode Island Monthly