The skyline in Santa Cruz was forever altered when the Ferris wheel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was dismantled and removed. The iconic Eli Bridge Company #16 “Aristocrat” has been a favorite attraction for residents and tourists for almost 60 years and its sudden departure has been a serious blow to the community.
The wheel was installed in 1959, 52 years after the Boardwalk first opened. Originally it stood where the Pirate Ship ride is now located and in the 1980’s, was moved closer to the San Lorenzo river where it stood until it was completely removed earlier this week.
The decision to retire the Ferris wheel came while the ride was closed for the winter and was undergoing routine maintenance. To the disappointment of many, this meant there was no opportunity for locals or enthusiasts to enjoy a farewell ride. Its closure was announced in early March on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Facebook page.
The safety of the attraction wasn’t an issue but rather the evolution of amusement parks as a whole and the finite lifespan of each ride. The new attraction should be in place by summer 2019 and a more modern Ferris wheel isn’t out of the question but what ride will eventually take the “Aristocrat’s” place will remain to be seen. In the meantime, food carts and possibly games will fill the space it occupied for decades. No other rides, including the equally iconic Giant Dipper, are slated for retirement at this time.
Since the Boardwalk started keeping a tally in 1986, the Ferris wheel has had 4 million riders. During its tenure at the seaside amusement park, the “Aristocrat” has been the site of many first dates and marriage proposals as well as multi-generational family traditions of riding the wheel. In June 2011, daredevil aerialist, high-wire acrobat and Guinness Book of World Record holder, Nik Wallenda, walked along the top of the moving Ferris wheel with only a long stick to help him balance. This stunt was included in the Discovery Channel’s “Life on a Wire” television program and photos of Nik teetering at the wheel’s apex made headlines around the globe.
Though there are no plans to sell the wheel to another amusement park, there have been numerous inquiries from residents and tourists about buying the “Aristocrat’s” seats. Officials from the Boardwalk said that if they do decide to go this route, they will make this announcement via social media.
Voted Best Seaside Park in the World by Amusement Today, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a landmark since it opened in 1907, attracting visitors from near and far to enjoy its rides, games, food, and entertainment. The retirement of the Eli Bridge #16 Ferris wheel will leave an indelible mark but along with that, excited anticipation of what the future holds for its successor….maybe even another Ferris Wheel.