It’s been a dream of Larry Osterhoudt’s to ride the Cyclone Racer roller coaster that once towered above the shores of downtown Long Beach at The Pike from 1930 to 1968. He had the chance to take a ride when he was 9 years old but turned it down.
Now, after spending the past 17 years piecing together a proposal, his vision to bring the seaside attraction back to Long Beach is finally “getting the attention it deserves,” he said this week during a two-hour pitch to residents.
A little more than a month ago, the Long Beach City Council agreed to have City Manager Pat West look into conducting a feasibility study on the privately funded proposal after 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who is a fan of the project and is also running for mayor, put the item on the Council’s agenda.
The public was invited to get a “behind the scenes” look at the proposition on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Long Beach Groundwater Treatment Plant at 2950 Redondo Ave. The event was part of Schipske’s regular Open Up Long Beach series, a program she started to provide a way for residents to become more acquainted with city departments and major happenings in the city.
Before a crowd of about two-dozen residents, Schipske said she hopes the presentation will put pressure on the city manager to get started on the feasibility study, adding that West has yet to call Osterhoudt about the plans.
The councilmember said the project could be a major boost for jobs and tourism in Long Beach. With the recent announcement that Boeing will be shuttering its C-17 manufacturing plant, any project that may bring economic development to the city shouldn’t be overlooked, she said.
“This city needs to look right now at all the possibilities of what we can do to bring jobs, to bring tourists, to bring revenue to the city of Long Beach, and I think we need to put everything on the table,” Schipske said. “I don’t think anything should be looked at as not an option until we get the information back that there’s absolutely no way it’s feasible.”
She noted that the proposal has come up just as a new roller coaster may be underway at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, pointing out that the original Cyclone Racer was built to compete with the east-coast seaside attraction more than 80 years ago.
The first roller coaster built in Long Beach was the Jackrabbit Racer, which extended over the ocean near the foot of Cedar Avenue, adjacent to the area known as Silver Spray Pier, but the Cyclone Racer was built for about $200,000, according to Osterhoudt, to be “over the top.”
According to Schipske, who has written numerous books about Long Beach history, the roller coaster was considered “the largest and fastest in the U.S.” The ride was called “racer” because it had two cars on two separate tracks that raced each other.
Though the City eventually terminated the lease for the Cyclone Racer to construct a part of Shoreline Drive that has since been demolished, Schipske said more than 30 million people had ridden the rollercoaster before it was destroyed.
Osterhoudt, who owns the trademark name and is considered a foremost expert on the Cyclone Racer, gave a detailed overview of how he painstakingly “reverse-engineered” the entire original wooden roller coaster, once called “The World’s Greatest Ride,” down to its original intertwining dual tracks using nothing but photos and footage. He showed snippets of movies, such as Abbott in Costello in Hollywood, in which the attraction appeared. The ride was even featured in an episode of Leave It To Beaver.
Osterhoudt’s first attempt at selling the idea of bringing the classic ride back to Long Beach was in 1997, when Disney was planning to build California Adventure, which would include a roller coaster, along Long Beach’s shoreline at the time. Disney rejected his plans, and the project never came to fruition anyway, but Osterhoudt said he still never gave up.
In the years that followed, he spent two years building a model replica of the Cyclone Racer, which has 2,800 wood elements on the track alone, in order to prove his concept could be built, at least on a small scale.
The model, which won first place in the Los Angeles County Fair, grabbed the attention of the head of Pennsylvania-based Structural Technologies, Inc., which restores roller coasters across the country.
Osterhoudt said the builder is still interested in re-creating the ride in Long Beach, adding that “investors are ready,” and there are orders in place for lumber. He said the construction of the roller coaster would be paid for by a corporation of investors, including himself, through forming an LLC that would own the ride and then rent the land from the City.
The designer has proposed placing the roller coaster, expected to be the size of two football fields, on the water near Shoreline Park or on the park near the Aquarium of the Pacific or near the Queen Mary.
“With the public backing, for the return of the racer, we will get it rebuilt,” he said, adding that the construction should take about two years to complete.
The major hurdle for the project, however, is getting approval from the California Coastal Commission, especially since state-tidelands law restricts development in the waterfront area. Still, Osterhoudt said the City and the state agency could work together to make exceptions if there’s enough public support, such as with moving the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
“If they want something bad enough, they will find a way to do it,” Osterhoudt said.
After the presentation, Osterhoudt fielded questions from the audience. One resident questioned whether the ride would sell enough since it may be perceived as “mild” compared to today’s standards.
Osterhoudt, however, said what made the original roller coaster unique was its four five-car trains that ran side by side, making for a one-of-a-kind ride. He assured that the coaster would be exciting enough to draw big crowds.
“It’s going to give you thrills,” Osterhoudt said. “The secret to the ride is in the trains. It allows them to do tricks with the amount of movement you’re going to get on the ride. That puts the thrill factor over the top… The record on this one is going to be on the ticket sales. It’s going to literally smoke anything out there.”
He added that the structure would be able to withstand storms and earthquakes as the original did throughout its 38 years in existence. Rebuilding the Cyclone Racer would also give Long Beach the economic drive that it needs by providing a unique attraction unlike any other, Osterhoudt said.
“Every city needs a ‘wow factor’ type of attraction to pull tourists in there, and Long Beach took theirs out unfortunately,” he said. “I sincerely feel that, if this thing’s put back in there, this thing is not going to be the talk of Long Beach, it’s going to be the talk of the whole Los Angeles area and the country. You’re going to be getting people coming from all around the world wanting to ride this thing.”
Todd Muilenburg, a lifelong Long Beach resident, said he remembers ditching school in the late 1950s to spend the entire day riding the original Cyclone Racer for just 25 cents a ride. He added, though, that he’s still on the fence about the project.
“Those were good memories,” Muilenburg said. “I don’t know where this is going to go … I hope they do well, but I haven’t really made a decision.”
Other residents, however, lauded the proposal, stating that the ride would attract tourists to the city and breathe life into the Pike area in downtown that currently only has a “fake” roller coaster structure.
“I think it would be a great benefit for Long Beach,” said Scott Evanskey, a Long Beach resident. “You can go almost anywhere in Long Beach and feel like, ‘hey, this is my town; this is a part of me,’ and that’s why we need to have something like this back, just for the thrill of riding the thing too.”