Maybe it’s the kid in me, but I have a big cushy soft spot for amusement parks of all kinds, from Disney on down to the derelict. It’s why I can’t resist a trip to Coney Island (and actually visit the small history museum when I go), why I venture north to New York’s charming and not-too-rundown Rye Playland (first opened in 1928), and why I used to frequent the wreckage of the 1964 World’s Fair site in Queens. But news of Britain’s Margate Dreamland renovation project stopped me in my tracks, and images of the project by Hemingway Design (who worked onsite with Ray Hole Architects and with M&C Saatchi on branding) have me looking to book a trip to the Southeast coastal town ASAP.
Dreamland, a.k.a. Britain’s oldest surviving amusement park, was built in the late 1800s and officially opened its gates in 1920, though it really hit its peak in the ’60s and ’70s, Before long, however, inexpensive overseas travel lured vacationers abroad (France and Belgium are just across the pond) and as the tourist trade dried up, the town of Margate and its beloved Dreamland kind of just… died.
However, a recent effort to revive Margate has reinvigorated the community. A busy little scene has built up around the town’s David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary art gallery, and now the newly reimagined Dreamland will open in phases starting June 19th. Gleeful visitors can look forward to a mix of revival rides dating back as far the 1880s, plus new attractions and events that will keep the park open year round.
The project also aims elevate Dreamland as the most sustainable amusement park. The s-word isn’t exactly a term you might typically associate with a theme park, but due to the incredibly tight budget (the entire bid is the equivalent of the price of just one new ride at a modern theme park) everything that can be reused and up-cycled is getting a second life. This means original structures are being retrofitted instead of torn down and leftover pieces of wood from the old Scenic Railway are being repurposed as furniture and souvenirs. Even neighbors who have looted the abandoned site over the years are giving back original signage and other artifacts.
As Hemingway Design’s Jack Hemingway points out, “It can make you make the right decisions. At least we can hold our hand on our hearts and say we really have reused everything. Every single thing. It may not be as designer-y as sometimes you’d like things to be, but at least you’ve done the right thing and been sustainable, thrifty, and sensible.” Or, as his partner Wayne Hemingway says, Dreamland will be “old-fashioned but oh-so-fashionable.”
Aside from the park’s very stylish identity design that Jack created with his wife Geraldine and son Adam, Dreamland is setting itself apart not only from other amusement parks but also from other “old-timey” revival projects, with truly unique touches and creative solutions.
“The spinning teacup ride is a great example,” Wayne says. “Every theme park has a spinning teacup ride in the kid’s section. We thought ‘What’s the most iconic teacup in Britain?’ Wedgwood. So we had this idea—and I can’t believe they went for it—of doing it in Wedgwood colors and [showing] the evolution of youth culture [on the cups]. So we had a teddy boy, a mod, a rocker, a hippie, a punk, a new romantic, a raver…” They even hired a Wedgwood illustrator to paint the ride. “The end result, they’re finding it quite shocking,” Wayne says, “but they’re laughing about it.”