Ten years ago, Fun City, the beloved little amusement park on the promenade in Sea Isle City run by the Pittaluga family of electricians, was shut down, the land sold to developers. There was much sadness over the loss of the little kiddie ride haven that had operated for 30 years, but really, who could blame the Pittalugas? As an amusement park, the land was worth a million, a million and a half. As property to develop, $6 million. But now, thanks to another great shore family, the Gillians of Gillians Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, the kiddie rides are back in Sea Isle City. Jay Gillian says the family tried to buy Fun City when it closed, but couldn't compete with developers, and has been trying in the decade since to buy property. Finally, a deal was worked out for the new park to operate on city owned property at the foot of the bridge leading into town, near the marina and historic Fish Alley, where a new boardwalk is also being built. It's the only new from-scratch amusement park opening this summer in the country.
That's Jay Gillian, 44, up there in front of one of his new rides in Sea Isle. Today was the official ribbon cutting with city officials and festivities, but hours after, with the Fun Land sheet cake three-quarters eaten, Jay was still accepting hand shakes and thanks from kids and their families. And why not? Who among us does not have great memories of taking our kids to those kiddie rides in Ocean City, waving to them every time they made another cycle in the kiddie fire trucks with the bell, or the boats floating in the water, or the airplanes that you had to shout at them to get them to figure out how to make them go up and down? Jay and I both got a little misty thinking about all those photos, how so many of us have those same photos of our kids and then, as they got older, in there with their little nieces, and, eventually, with their own kids. "That's where the magic is," he said. "It becomes very emotional for me. I grew up there, and now, I'm seeing people I went to school with bring their kids. It's so rewarding and humbling." The Gillians opened their first place, Fun Deck, in 1929, at the site of what's now the waterpark in Ocean City. It's catering to families that Jay says keeps the Gillians doing well, where other companies, like Six Flags, are in bankrupcy. "You can't lose with families," he said. "Great Adventure went crazy with all the roller coasters, too corporate."