A developer’s plan to attach Paragon Park’s name to a proposed five-story apartment complex at 197 Nantasket Ave. – currently a video arcade, food stand, surf shop, and miniature golf course – has generated nostalgia for the area’s amusement history. But owner Chris Reale’s tribute to the old park clouds the distinct identity the site enjoyed through much of the 20th century.
More simply, although the building will be called The Dunes at Paragon Boardwalk, the soon-to-be-apartments property was not part of the world-famous amusement center.
From the 1940s until the 1980s, it was Funland, a smaller park that competed with Paragon and featured kiddie rides, a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a small carousel, pinball machines, and prize games. Over the years, the site housed Joe & Nemo’s famous hot dog stand, a roller rink, water slide, and the country’s first seasonal Burger King restaurant.
Like much of Hull’s amusement history, the story of Funland begins at the turn of the last century, when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took over the first mile of Nantasket Beach. Creation of the Nantasket Reservation in 1899, and the removal of nearly every building from the foot of Atlantic Hill to the current Hull Redevelopment Authority property, was the state’s way of “cleaning up” what many viewed as a series of seedy hotels, taverns, and places of amusement that attracted crime and disrupted a quiet day at the beach.
Two buildings remained after the state’s purge: the Nantasket Hotel (torn down in 1955) and the dormitory for hotel employees, which later was a police barracks and today is part of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s maintenance complex. In 1900, the land that would become Paragon Park and Funland stood empty, except for a railroad siding next to the tracks that crossed the property’s bay side.
The Hotel Tivoli, a 2½-story structure that stood at the water’s edge near the end of present-day Park Avenue, also survived. A group of Hull town officials, stung by the state’s intrusion on the beach, opened a resort in 1901 called Nantasket Point at the tip of what is now Sunset Point. The coalition, which included Hull political boss John Smith, bought the Tivoli, moved it up the peninsula, and renamed it the Nantasket Point Hotel. David O. Wade, a former selectman whose Ocean View House was among the buildings taken by eminent domain, ran the hotel until the resort closed after the 1908 season. The state’s small comfort station in the main beach parking lot is named The Tivoli in honor of the old hotel.By this time, Paragon Park had opened in 1905 on the plot of land that is now home to the Horizons and Sunset Place condominiums. The original footprint stretched from Park Avenue north as far as the current Paragon Boardwalk property, ending about where the Fascination parlor stood until it was taken down last year. The railroad company had divided its land into four parcels – Lots A, B, C, and D – and Paragon founder George A. Dodge leased the first three to build his park.
In the same year that Paragon opened, Ferdinand Ricciardi, a Sicilian immigrant who Americanized his last name to Richards and went by either Ferdinand or Fred, moved his barbershop to Nantasket Point from Atlantic Hill, where he had amassed several properties. He expanded beyond cutting hair and opened a store and restaurant catering to guests who visited “The Point” by boat or a new trolley line along “the Nantasket Road.”
Richards was so successful that, when the resort closed, he bought the Nantasket Point Hotel and moved it by barge back to the main beach.
Renamed the Richards Hotel, the “new” building opened in 1911 on Lot D, adjacent to Paragon and in front of the railroad tracks. Within a few years, Dodge obtained a master lease on all of the railroad’s land and continued subleasing the hotel section to Richards, who added a restaurant, bakery, and a carousel to the property.Following Dodge’s death in 1922, new Paragon owners David Stone and Albert Golden bought all four parcels of land from the railroad and sold Lot D to Richards. Many years later, when Stone and Golden dissolved their partnership, Stone retained the main park land (Lots A and B) and Golden kept Lot C, which included the row of stores that housed Fascination, Playland Penny Arcade, and Lahage’s Salt Water Taffy, among others. Golden eventually expanded Lot C by buying a section of the railroad bed after the trains stopped running in the 1930s. Today, Reale owns both Lots C and D – the former row of stores, the piece of the railroad bed that runs from
Rockland Circle to the Paragon Carousel, and the Funland property.
Richards, who subdivided his land on Atlantic Hill into house lots (Richards Road is named for him), died in 1935. His son, Fred Jr., kept the hotel business operating until the family sold it 10 years later to Charles Freeman and his partners, who operated amusements at Revere Beach.
Freeman’s group opened the first version of Funland Park, advertising it as having the largest Ferris wheel in New England, rides like the whip and the rocket ships, an arcade, and refreshment stands. The hotel was managed by James Constantine, who also leased the state-owned Nantasket Hotel across the street. Neither hotel would last long, however, as the Richards met the wrecking ball in 1953 and the Nantasket, called a “white elephant … for the past 50 years” by the head of the Metropolitan District Commission, was taken down two years later.
When Hurricane Donna swept over the peninsula on Sept. 12, 1960, an 80-mile-per-hour gust of wind blew down the Ferris wheel, which was not replaced. Other amusement offerings at Funland were similar to those at Paragon, including an outdoor Tilt-A-Whirl and kiddie rides, as well as the indoor Dodge-’Ems (bumper cars).
The enormous Arcade Bazaar, a discount store that opened in 1954 in the new structure that replaced the demolished Richards Hotel, appealed to bargain hunters who were looking for deals on toys, dolls, gifts, and games.
Ads featured cartoon drawings and clever slogans, including a personified dollar bill with the tag line “Where Mr. Buck has More Cents.”
A clear focus on Christmas purchases helped the beach store draw interest in the winter season, and the selection expanded to include housewares, electronics, jewelry, and clothing. “Christmas needn’t be expensive anymore, thanks to the Arcade Bazaar, where the Christmas Spirit prevails all year!” proclaimed one ad, while another promotion offered customers the option of having their items wrapped at no charge by “Miss Gift Wrap of 1957.”
The Arcade Bazaar’s success inspired Paragon Park’s owners to open Toy-A-Rama up the sidewalk, extending their friendly rivalry from the summer months into the holiday season.
In 1963, both Paragon and Funland suffered losses from massive fires – three in total by year’s end. At Funland, fire struck shortly after 6:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, March 11, when a Nantasket Transportation Co. bus driver saw smoke coming from the building. As crews from Hull, Hingham, Cohasset, and Weymouth fought through the dense smoke to battle what Chief Adrian Dowd termed a “raging inferno,” embers from the fire reached the rear turn of Paragon’s Giant Coaster at least three times, scorching the wooden structure but causing no major damage. About an hour into the firefight, Funland’s roof collapsed, ensuring the destruction of the 9-year-old building, all of the Arcade Bazaar’s merchandise, Funland’s arcade games, and 14 amusement rides, including Fred Richards’ antique carousel. Estimates of total damage topped $300,000, which translates into about $2.5 million today.
The cause of the fire was never determined, although it was believed to have started in the boiler room. Regardless of fire’s origin, the owners of Funland and the Arcade Bazaar – Freeman, brothers Dave and Sidney “Sonny” Baker, and Gus Blaustein among them – moved quickly to rebuild and were open again in a new building later in 1963.
One of the places that survived the changes at Funland was Duffy’s Lounge, originally located on the ground floor of the hotel but which later occupied its own building. It could be a tough place; Duffy’s employees included Joseph Barboza, a former boxer who worked for New England organized crime boss Raymond Patriarca. In his 1975 memoir, Barboza described working at the bar as “a part-time job as a bouncer on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. I had a few fights in Duffy’s and outside and finally got the place quieted down so respectable people could sit down comfortably.”
Barboza later became an FBI informant, working with the same FBI agent who groomed James “Whitey” Bulger to work for the feds years later. Barboza testified against Patriarca and was one of the first people to enter the federal Witness Protection Program. In court, Barboza admitted that mobsters had tried to extort David Baker, one of the owners of Funland, Duffy’s, and the Blue Bunny lounge inside Paragon Park, by threatening to kidnap
his son if he did not pay $100 weekly in protection money. Duffy’s closed in the early 1970s.
In the area behind Funland, Golden leased parts of the railroad bed to Paragon Park for its Turnpike Car and Magic Mine Train rides. Golden also rented the section that runs behind the clocktower building to Morris Cohen, who opened Murray’s Diner in 1949. The traditional lunch-car diner changed names several times before it was auctioned in 1968 to make way for the Nantasket Sky Slide, a towering structure on which kids (and adults) raced each other down the bumpy slide on cushioned mats before running back up the steps to go again.
Soon after the Sky Slide closed, Funland’s owners saw the success of the Nantasket Waterslide, which opened in 1981 at the site of the Howard Johnson’s at 121 Nantasket Ave., and reconfigured the front section of their property to house the Sky High water slide. Both slides lasted until 1985, when Hull’s condominium boom had beachfront property owners planning for potential new developments.
The Levin family, owners of the Dream Machine video arcade chain, bought Funland (the old Lot D) from the Revere-based group in 1983, one year before Paragon Park’s final season. The one-story, concrete-block building constructed after the 1963 fire featured numerous businesses over the years in addition to the games, including a roller-skating rink and a seasonal flea market. The Levins replaced the plain but colorful façade with a tall, blue-and-white shingled roofline, complete with a blue-lit Dream Machine sign at its peak. Ricky’s of Nantasket replaced the Joe & Nemo’s stand, expanding the menu beyond hot dogs and hamburgers into multiple flavors of ice cream, frozen yogurt, and beach staples like popcorn and cotton candy. Dream Machine opened in the renovated arcade space, which was cut in half in order to open the country’s first seasonal Burger King in 1984.
That fall, the Levins purchased Lot C from the Golden family, consolidating the last elements of Paragon Park with those of its old rival, Funland. After sitting empty for a few seasons, the site of the former Sky High slide was transformed into the miniature golf course. The Levins operated Dream Machine in the Funland building; the former Burger King space housed a dollar store and health club. Dalat, Joseph’s Pizzeria, Kohr Bros. ice cream, Carousels & Ships Gift Shop, and Fascination anchored the building known as Amusement Row. Some of the spaces – like the former Playland Penny Arcade – remained empty for several years.
In late 2017, Reale purchased both Lots C & D from the Levins for $1.25 million and announced plans for the Paragon Boardwalk entertainment complex. In doing so, Reale took down most of the Amusement Row building, which had been built in 1917, to create an open-air space for a volleyball court and concessions in repurposed shipping containers. Dalat restaurant anchors one end, and the Fascination parlor originally was to remain, but storm damage forced removal of that section as well. The Funland building still contains a video arcade (although closed due to COVID-19 restrictions), and the former Burger King space was the site of a beer hall initially and a surf shop last season.
The recently announced plans for The Dunes at Paragon Boardwalk, however, would keep the open-air boardwalk complex on Lot C and cover most of Lot D with a five-story residential building. The current plans do not envision first-floor retail uses, and the owners have said that they would prefer that the arcade be relocated off-site.
After a long history of amusements at the beach, there will be no more fun at Funland.