LUKE EASTER PARK, at Kinsman Road and East 116th streets in southeast Cleveland, was formerly known as WOODLAND HILLS PARK. It was renamed in 1980 in honor of ballplayer LUSCIUS "LUKE" EASTER. The park was acquired by the City of Cleveland in 1900, by gift and purchase, and included fifteen acres of forest trees. Previously the city had owned adjacent property containing the Kinsman Reservoir. The park originally featured winding roads, two creeks, and a few buildings, including a dance hall that burned down in the late 1910s. In 1918, part of the park was turned into an airport, which served as a "postage stamp" airport on an airmail route for about two years.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, the park was turned into Cleveland's largest recreational center. A pool, spectators' balcony, bath house, and shelter house were added by 1927. Cleveland's municipal swimming championships were held there the next year. Ten baseball diamonds were later added, along with clay tennis courts, a football field, a running track, an office and service building, and landscaping. Much of this work was done in 1936 under the WPA. (See:WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION.)
The property declined over the following decades due to vandalism, neglect, and age, although the bathhouse and pool were replaced in the late 1960s, and a skating rink was reopened in the park in 1979.
Despite its ongoing problems, the park's location and sizeable open grounds made it an important gathering place for Cleveland's African-American community, particularly residents of the adjacent Mount Pleasant neighborhood. In 1971, Congressman Louis Stokes, as representative for the district, instituted the tradition of holding an annual 21st Congressional District Caucus Parade and Picnic on and around park grounds. (In 1992, the 21st Congressional District was redesignated the 11th Congressional District, and the event was renamed accordingly.) Taking place each Labor Day weekend, the parade and picnic have drawn crowds of thousands as well as political aspirants such as Jesse Jackson (1983), Walter Mondale (1986), and John Kerry (2004). After 1992, the park also hosted Cleveland's yearly African-American Family Festival.
A new city-financed community center, The Zelma Watson-George Recreation Center, opened on parkland along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in 1997. Named after former Broadway singer, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and Cleveland Job Corps director Zelma Watson-George, the center contained a roller skating rink, gym, basketball courts, track, computer lab and meeting rooms. As of 2006, Luke Easter Park also housed the Woodland Hills swimming pool, ball diamonds, a playground, outdoor basketball courts, an outdoor running track, bleachers, and shelter houses for picnicking.