‘He adored Coney Island’: Zamperla family remembers late patriarch for kindness, creativity and People’s Playground revival

Thunderbolt roller coaster opening in Coney Island
Antonio Zamperla at the grand opening of The Thunderbolt rollercoaster in 2014. The amusement industry icon passed away last month.
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

Theme park aficionado Alberto Zamperla, the second-generation president of global ride manufacturer Zamperla Group and one of the founding fathers of Coney Island’s flourishing amusement district, died last month at the age of 71.

As another year of thrill-seeking comes to a close, Zamperla’s son, Alessandro, looked back on his contributions to parks around the world — but most notably, to the People’s Playground.

“He adored New York and Coney Island even more so because of the meaning it has to us as a family,” Alessandro told Brooklyn Paper. “He was someone who lived and breathed amusement. He was extremely passionate and proud of it and was always thinking about how to make things better.”

Zamperla headed the company founded by his father Antonio Zamperla in 1966, providing family-friendly coasters and other innovative rides to parks around the world, including Disney, Universal, and Six Flags, as well as Coney Island’s Luna Park, which he had a hand in relaunching back in 2010.

Alessandro remembers his father — who died suddenly on Nov. 17 — as a jovial man who had a deep love for children and enjoyed being a part of an industry that brought joy to families.

The patriarch took on the unique challenge of bringing people to the Coney Island entertainment district following the 2009 recession when the community didn’t want to spend money on attractions — a feat Alessandro says his father led with determination. 

“He was so passionate about the human connection and the ability to provide that moment where you don’t think about much else but just having pure joy or fun, whether you’re on the Cyclone or the [B&B Carousell],” he said.

Alberto Zamperla, pictured here enjoying Luna Park opening day in 2019 with his son Alessandro, is remembered for creative additions to the amusement industry.File photo by Erica Price

By reviving the Coney Island attraction area, Zamperla and his family transformed the beloved area into a Brooklyn must-see for travelers from all over the world, a spokesperson for Luna Park said.

“In 1976, Zamperla left Italy for the United States to further pursue his dreams of innovating and creating rides and attractions, following in his father’s footsteps,” the rep said in a statement. “His craftsmanship, determination, intelligence, and skills created hundreds of rides that transformed the amusement industry for generations to come.”

Beyond his love of entertainment, the late innovator is remembered for his sensitivity towards children with disabilities. Zamperla connected with various nonprofits during his time as a manufacturer and played a role in building a village in Florida that offers children with mobile restrictions a chance to ride attractions.

In 2019, he was welcomed into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Hall of Fame, joining his father, Antonio Zamperla, and other industry greats like Walt Disney and George Ferris, the inventor of the Ferris wheel.

The amusement industry trailblazer was laid to rest at a ceremony in Vicenza, Italy on Nov. 23. He is survived by his wife Paola, his sons Antonio, Alessandro, and Adriano, and three grandchildren.

“For those who got a chance to meet him, it definitely left a very positive impact just because of his energy,” Alessandro told Brooklyn Paper. “He definitely lived life to its fullest.”