Editor's Note: Over the years since Eldridge Park closed its doors, Bob Sardo has been a valuable source of information about the park and its operation during the Forties and Fifties. Bob's family ran the Frozen Custard concession and his dad showed the movies that we used to watch before and after the stage acts.

Our thanks to Bob for sending us this piece on his memories of Eldridge Park, where he spent every day during the summer helping with the family business, literally "growing up" at Eldridge.

My Recollections of Eldridge Park
by Bob Sardo

s a kid, summers meant Eldridge Park. My biggest thrill was when I got to go to the park every night with my father, John Sardo, who operated the movies. Who can forget the Roller Coaster, Merry-Go-Round, Jasper the Boat and the Whip. Also, being a Sardo meant free rides. The food stands in the 1940's were the hot dog stand and the root beer/ice cream stand operated by John and Maggie Vallego. Root beer was a nickel, as were the Choco-Pops (chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick, my favorite).

Young Bob SardoAs I grew older (12 years and up) my father began initiating me into the projection booth to teach me how to run the movies (as he did my older brothers before me). I absolutely loved it. These were the war years and television was at least 5 to 10 years away. The crowds were enormous, particularly on weekends. My biggest fear then was to have a film break in the middle of the movie, a frequent occurrence. Then, predictably, the shouts of "Put a nickel in it!" would fill the air until the movie was finally restarted. But I loved it. The technical aspect of the movies led me into a career as an Electrical Engineer, which still serves me to this day.

In addition to the movies, Eldridge Park featured weekly stage and aerial acts with many performers. Some of these were Lippincott, the Magician, Daredevil Bruffy, P.J. Riggens, the Watkins Animal act, the Three Barrett's and the Sky High Alcidos, just to name a few. And occasionally, an escaped animal would make the Star-Gazette front page, such as the chimpanzee finally caught near Elmira College, and an escaped bear that climbed a tree near the stage and had to be coaxed down.

Sunday afternoons meant local stage acts that usually began around 1PM and went to 3 PM. At that time the featured weekly act went on. Some of the local bands that used to play were Brownies Old Timers (and they were!), the Woodhull Mountain Boys, featuring Woody Woodhull, the Watkins Salt Band and an occasional afternoon of square dancing.

The Midway consisted of Skee Roll (5 cents), the Penny Arcade (operated by Roy Tota), the Dart Games, the original shooting gallery (later moved past the Merry-Go-Round) and one or two others. I also remember cars being able to drive down the Midway back in those days.

The bathrooms were located on the "knoll," as it was known then. The knoll, I learned later, was created from the dirt excavated from the original small lake, that resulted in the current size of the lake.

Jeff, the copRemember Jeff, the Cop? He was the sole Protector of the Park, and took his job very seriously. When he made his rounds at the park, we usually gave him a wide berth. In the late 1940's (1949, I believe) he stepped into the Merry-Go-Round area, swinging his Billy Club in his right hand when it hit his holstered gun. The gun fired, the bullet went through his thigh, ricocheted off the concrete floor and struck an innocent bystander below the knee. His first reaction was, "Who fired that gun?" He then felt the pain, looked down and saw the blood, then said, "I've been shot!" He survived but he kept the gun on safety after that.

In 1950, Oscar Bittler (owner of the Roller Coaster) and Bob Long (Merry-Go-Round) rebuilt the park under a Frozen Custard - Ernie Sardoten year lease arrangement with the City of Elmira. This resulted in additional food stands, such as frozen custard (Ernie Sardo, my older brother), cotton candy and candy apples (Barney Randall) and French fries and waffles (the O'Leary's). The Vallego's continued with the candy and ice cream stand, as well as a souvenir stand. The park continued to operate through the Fifties, with additional rides added (Ferris Wheel, the flying Airplanes, etc.). A popular addition to the Midway was Kiddieland.

Eldridge Park in the 1940's and early 1950's was very popular, both during the week and weekends. Daily picnics were held weekdays by the many companies then located in Elmira. It was also the favorite spot to watch the Fourth of July Fireworks. These were located across the lake from the main park area, and I remember the rockets bursting in the air, creating beautiful reflections in the lake.

Then finally, the saddest time of the year approached. Labor Day signaled the end of an exciting and fun-filled summer vacation. I didn't know what was worse....the closing of the park or the first day of school. I recall just prior to starting high school as a freshman (EFA), I made a notation on a wooden beam located backstage, adjacent to the stage door. Written with a piece of white chalk, it said, "DBS (Day Before School), Sept. 1946." To my utter amazement, the message was still there when I took a picture of the stage in 1993, just prior to its destruction.

read more about the Park
click here to visit the Eldridge Park Home Page