The amusement park originated in Europe with venues such as Bakken and Tivoli in Denmark, Tibidabo in Spain, and Prater Park in Austria. The concept crossed the pond to Coney Island in the late 1800s. Coney had previously been a summer resort for the wealthy, with Victorian hotels, private bathhouses, and vaudeville theaters. But as the 20th century dawned, middle and working class New Yorkers became the area’s primary visitors, drawn largely by three giant outdoor entertainment venues: Steeplechase Park (1897), Luna Park (1903), and Dreamland (1904). These three destinations soon became the prototypes for amusement parks throughout the U.S., buoyed by several recent innovations: In 1884 LaMarcus A. Thompson, an inventor from Ohio, built and operated the "Switchback," the nation's first roller coaster. Nine years later, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’s “Ferris Wheel” was unveiled at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Ferris Wheels became key attractions at all three Coney Island Parks. Perhaps most important was the creation of a transportation network that brought traffic to Coney Island. City rail lines carried visitors to the boat termini that served the island. Throughout the U.S., as well as in Europe, inexpensive transportation was critical to the rise of the urban amusement park. 

By the early 1890s, all of the factors that would make Coney Island a success were present in Cleveland, principally a large urban population living in cramped neighborhoods but possessed of some disposable income and access to trolley and interurban rail lines. The first venue for which documentation exists was FOREST CITY PARK, located between Beyerle Ave. and WASHINGTON PARK with the Willson Ave. (E. 55th St.) trolley line running nearby. Located less than a mile west of St. Stanislas Church in Slavic Village, the park was an immediate success; 100,000 customers paid the $.15 admission fee in 1893. Attractions included dancing, BOWLING, a shooting gallery, a merry-go-round, and shows and concerts in the theater. As the years passed, however, Forest City Park began to suffer in comparison with newer competitors. And lacking parking facilities, it could not host the rapidly increasing population travelling by car. Following a major fire, the park closed in the mid-1920s.

Inspired in part by the success of Forest City Park, local investors formed a company to build a new amusement venue on the shore of Lake Erie about 9 mi. east of downtown. On land that was previously the Cobb family farm, EUCLID BEACH PARK opened in 1895 between Collamer Ave. (E. 156th St.) and Ursuline Ave. NE. A local trolley line stopped directly at the gate on Lake Shore Blvd. 1,700' of sand beach and 75 acres of wooded parkland drew bathers and picnickers. Entertainment attractions were varied and constantly expanded. Still, the park was not an immediate success and in 1901 the original investor group sold out to the Humphrey family. Previously known in Cleveland as candy and popcorn manufacturers, the Humphreys brought Euclid Beach into its glory years. In order to counteract the reputation of parks and carnival midways as hotbeds of iniquity and sensationalism, the Humphreys ran Euclid Beach in accordance with their personal slogan, "Nothing to depress or demoralize." Admission to the grounds was free, with small fees charged for use of the attractions. Attendees by the thousands enjoyed the baroque-styled carousel, the Thriller and Flying Turns roller coasters, the Surprise House (overseen by “Laughing Sal”), the lakefront pier and fountain, the maple-floored dancing pavilion, and the skating rink, complete with a rococo-styled Gavioli organ. As the years passed, Euclid Beach Park changed. Trolleys were replaced by buses, and more and more families arrived in automobiles. Attendance began a slow decline after WW2. The drop accelerated in the 1960s, and the park closed forever on 28 Sept. 1969. In 1985 Ohio created Euclid Beach State Park on the easternmost 16 acres of the old amusement park. That segment is now under the management of the CLEVELAND METROPARKS.

1898 saw the opening of the west side’s first amusement park. PURITAS SPRINGS PARK stood aside a deep ravine overlooking the Rocky River valley near the intersection of Puritas Ave. and Grayton Rd. Like Euclid Beach, Puritas Springs was a "trolley park," (served by the Cleveland & Southwestern interurban) and offered free admission to the grounds. The park’s marquis attraction was the Cyclone roller coaster, higher and faster than any other coaster in the Cleveland area. Puritas Springs drew west-siders for years, but its luster began to fade after WW2. In 1946 a fire destroyed the dance hall and a second fire in 1958 forced the park to close for good. A residential neighborhood now occupies the site. 

In 1902 another east side park opened for what proved to be a brief run. WHITE CITY amusement park was built on the lake at Lake Shore Blvd. and E. 140th St., competing with, and imitating, Euclid Beach a mile to the east. Served by the same streetcars, the 2 parks became a common destination for a day's outing although White City charged an admission fee. Attractions included the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride, the Scenic Railway roller coaster, the Flying Airships, Bostock’s Animal Show, and a dance hall. Following a damaging gale on 24 July 1907, the park closed forever. The grounds are now the site of the Easterly Sewage Disposal Plant.

LUNA PARK opened in 1905 and proved to be Euclid Beach's most formidable competitor. Emulating Luna Park on Coney Island, Cleveland’s version was a fantasy of "Oriental" architecture and electric lights. The 35-acre grounds stood on the NE corner of Woodland Ave. and Woodhill Rd., and was served by several local streetcar lines. The site is hilly, and patrons had to climb a steep flight of stairs to reach the gate. Later, an escalator was installed. Like White City, Luna Park charged admission. On its western (entrance) half, the park featured a concert garden in which travelling vaudeville shows were often featured and Enrico Caruso once performed. The section also boasted a picnic grove, swimming pool, motordome, and stadium for FOOTBALL and BASEBALL. Rides were located in the park’s eastern half. Luna Park enjoyed brief but fervent popularity, losing patronage in the late 1920s. It was razed in 1931. The roller rink, Luna Park’s last vestige, burned on 12 Dec. 1938. In 1940 the Woodhill Homes housing project was constructed on the site. 

A second west-side venue—Lincoln Park—opened in 1906 on Sloane Ave. near the Rocky River. Built on grounds known formerly as Scenic Park, Lincoln Park was touted in the Cleveland newspapers as an investment opportunity. The Detroit and Clifton Ave. trolleys ran past, as did the Lake Shore Electric interurbans. Lincoln Park never became truly popular despite attractions such as the "only round dancing floor in Ohio," a race course featuring "pitching wooden steeds operated by electricity," theater pavilions, baseball and recreation grounds, a playhouse for light opera and vaudeville, an old-time plantation, and boathouses and boat rentals. The park was shuttered after only ten years. 
The final venture in the Cleveland area was Gordon Gardens, built in 1922. Comprising only 8 acres, the park was located on the west side of E. 72nd St. between the lake and the New York Central tracks. Operators hoped to attract the automobile traffic on E. 72nd St., but the small park could not compete with its larger, better-equipped competitors. The death knell was a 1927 fire that destroyed the dance hall. In 1996 the grounds were occupied by the Shoreway and the CLEVELAND LAKEFRONT STATE PARK, now operated by the Cleveland Metroparks. 

Urban amusement parks across the U.S. closed in the 1960s and 1970s. Reasons for their passing are multifold, but the most-common culprit was evolving tastes in entertainment. Movies, and to a greater degree television, exposed people to fantasies far more compelling than the glitter and false fronts of the amusement parks, and at a lower cost. In addition, transportation innovations, which initially had made the parks possible, came to work against them. As auto travel became ubiquitous, family outings and vacations increasingly meant farther-away destinations; the local amusement park was simply too close. The nature of direct competition also changed. Following the advent of Disneyland in 1955, "traditional" parks such as Cedar Pt. and Geauga Lake repositioned themselves as complete vacation destinations, with accommodations and activities beyond the scope of the urban park. Racism in the postwar years also dealt a blow to the urban parks. Many whites stopped going to urban parks once they had been successfully integrated, and as whites moved to suburban areas far removed from the parks, the loss of population density further reduced patronage. Lastly, the safety record of the old-style amusement parks was increasingly spotty. Wooden construction of high-speed rides and the parks’ generally-low profit margins often spawned neglect and unsafe conditions. The newer destinations offered patrons higher levels of safety and security. Paradoxically, the traditional urban amusement parks proved to be both too tame and too dangerous for their customers.

Russell Allon Hehr (dec.)


Updated by Christopher Roy

Last updated: 9/5/2023

Cleveland Historical Amusement Park Articles:

Scenic Park 

Euclid Beach

Luna Park


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