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Alvin Cohen: Visionary founder of Adventureland

Alvin H. Cohen founded Adventureland, the iconic Long

Alvin H. Cohen founded Adventureland, the iconic Long Island amusement park.  "Where some people saw chicken coops, he saw opportunity," his son said. Credit: Cohen Family

Alvin Cohen had a vision.

It was 1960 and Cohen was tired of the desk job he worked in Manhattan’s garment district. So he drove his young family out to a chicken farm on Route 110 in East Farmingdale, pointed toward a six-acre parcel of land and declared that he was about to turn it into a world-class family amusement park.

"Where some people saw chicken coops, he saw opportunity,” said his son, Robert Cohen, 69, of Muttontown. “That’s what kind of person he was.”

Alvin, the founder and original owner of Adventureland, one of Long Island’s most iconic landmarks, died June 27 in Boca Raton, Fla., from complications from COVID-19. He was 94.

Originally called Adventureland 110 Playland, the park consisted of a restaurant, indoor arcade, four rides and a mini golf course when it opened in 1962. Adventureland has since changed owners several times, more than doubled in size and expanded to more than 30 rides. Multiple movies have been filmed there and it has remained a regular summertime destination for generations of Long Islanders.

“The man was an entertainment genius,” said Steven Gentile, the current co-owner and president of Adventureland. “It was like a Disneyesque vision to think he was going to put something like this in the middle of Long Island and people were going to come.” The amusement park is awaiting clearance to reopen after the pandemic shutdown.

Born May 26, 1926, in Roxbury, Mass., Alvin was an unlikely candidate to become the Walt Disney of Long Island.

Alvin graduated from Boston University in 1946 with a degree in chemistry. He was 20 years old and intending to go to medical school when his father died, leaving Alvin to take over a failing family appliance business.

“He had a mother and sister and was newly married,” said his daughter Sheila Furr, 71, of Boca Raton. “He wanted to be a doctor but instead became a businessman to support his family.”

In 1953, he moved his family to Plainview and took a job working for an uncle as a shipping clerk in a dress manufacturing business in Manhattan. His initial salary was $23 a week, according to his son.

Alvin was a people person, who knew how to go after what he wanted. He first met his wife, Shirley, while boating on a lake in New Hampshire. He was only 17 but lied about his age to impress her. They were married for 70 years until she died in 2016.

The banks didn’t share Alvin’s vision when he tried to get a loan to buy the farm for $20,000, so he and a partner cobbled together a payment by convincing relatives to give them small loans. Shortly after they purchased the land, the Long Island Expressway was extended to Route 110, ushering in the start of the Suffolk County population boom.

Adventureland was a family business and in the beginning everyone pitched in. Robert and his cousin operated the rides and tended to a horse that was kept at the park. Furr worked in a ticket booth and the front office. Business boomed.

“I was kind of a nerdy kid, but everybody loved me because my father owned the amusement park,” Robert said.

Furr, who went to Plainview-Old Bethpage High School, held her Sweet 16 birthday party at the park at night.

“People crashed the party and brought me a gift hoping I would let them in,” she said. “It was a riot. The entire high school football team was on the bumper cars. At my 40th high school reunion, people were still talking about it.”

In the early 1970s, Alvin became the park’s sole owner and bought six adjacent acres, including a parcel that housed one of the banks that rejected his original loan application. He expanded the business, increasing the ride count from 16 to 30.

He also bought another park in Warwick Neck, R.I., and became an industry consultant for amusement parks around the globe. In 1977, he sold Adventureland for an undisclosed amount. Soon after he moved to Boca Raton, where he became a housing developer and philanthropist.

Though he had to give up on his medical school dream, Alvin’s son became a veterinarian, his daughter earned a doctorate in psychology and Richard Tobin, a nephew he raised, became a doctor.

“He used to say how proud he was of his three doctors,” Furr said. “He made it so we could follow our dreams.”

Alvin was living in the memory unit of a nursing home in Boca Raton when he caught the virus and died four days later. Services and burial were held on June 29 at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton. 

In addition to his children and nephew, he is survived by four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.