Filed Under Environment

Gordon Park

When William J. Gordon died in 1892, he donated the land that became known as Gordon Park to the City of Cleveland under the condition that it would forever remain a free, public park. By the time of his death, Gordon, who made his fortune in the wholesale grocery and iron ore businesses, had accumulated some 122 acres of land along the shoreline near the spot where the Doan Brook enters Lake Erie. Gordon Park opened to the public in 1893 and quickly became a recreational destination for Clevelanders living on the east side. A grand bathhouse catered to the multitudes who crowded onto the park's beach, and the city also provided facilities for boaters, fishermen, and picnickers. Meanwhile, further inland, south of the beach, wooded areas and formal gardens provided quiet retreats for those seeking a more relaxed atmosphere.

In the decades after World War II, however, Gordon Park began to decline. Water pollution affected all of the city's lakefront parks and Gordon Park was no exception. Swimming in particular became increasingly unsafe. Moreover, the late-1960s construction of a straighter route for I-90 (an upgrade of the Memorial Shoreway that the Works Progress Administration had built from East 9th Street to Gordon Park in the late 1930s) literally split the park in two, separating its lakefront areas from those further inland. Meanwhile, Doan Brook was culverted, and the area directly to the east of the park (Dike 14) became a dredge disposal site.

Lake Erie may not have gone anywhere, but it is hard to imagine that William J. Gordon would recognize his 122-acre gift to Cleveland if he could see it today.

Audio

Gordon Park's Decline Laura C. Gooch, author of "The Doan Brook Handbook," explains why she thinks Gordon Park began to decline in the 1960s and 70s. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Gordon Park, Circa 1900 The Gordon Park beach and bathhouse are pictured around 1900. The bathhouse, where swimmers could shower and store their clothes for a small fee, opened in 1896. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Gordon Park Lagoon, Circa 1910 The Century Post Card Company of Cleveland published this postcard around 1910. The building in the background is the Gordon Park bathhouse. Image courtesy of the J. Mark Souther Postcard Collection
Gordon Park Concession Stand, 1938 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
"Love From Hazel Jerg," Circa 1910 The personal message on the front of this card, featuring a photograph taken on the beach at Gordon Park, reads: "Mildred Hazel Joe" "This is a picture Mama took of Joe & myself and chum at Gordon Park. Thanks for your birthday card. Love from Hazel Jerg" Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Gordon Park, August 1945 The scene at Gordon Park on August 20, 1945 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Gordon Park Beach, July 1942 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Gordon Park Beach, Oct. 1954 A very different scene from decades past is shown at Gordon Park Beach in October 1954. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Aerial View, Aug. 1969 Gordon Park as seen from the air in August 1969. The road running through the middle of this photograph is the Lakeland Freeway (later to become part of the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway/I-90). The freeway bisected Gordon Park and cut off its lakefront areas from the ball fields, playground and wooded areas further inland. In the foreground can be seen the landfill that eventually became Dike 14, and is now known as the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. From 1979 to 1999, sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland Harbor was dumped at Dike 14, creating what is now an 88-acre nature preserve. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
View From the Bathhouse, 1908 The Gordon Park beach as seen from its bathing pavilion in 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Location

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Gordon Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/143.