Lakewood's Fourth of July celebration in 1918 revolved around festivities for the dedication of the newly-acquired Lakewood Park. A parade of cars decked out in patriotic colors terminated at the park where thousands gathered to watch a ceremonial flag raising, hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence, sing patriotic sings, and partake in special games and athletic contests. Lakewood's Slovak community was well represented in the events, which included a speech in Slovak and a parade of over 300 Slovaks and their ethnic band.
The new park represented a significant investment in public recreation for the city. The 25-acres of lakefront property cost $214,500. In comparison, Lakewood's two other major parks at this time -- Scenic Park, the site of an old amusement park at the mouth of the Rocky River, and Madison Park in Birdtown -- had cost the city about $40,000 a piece to purchase in 1917. The $214,500 price-tag for Lakewood Park was actually quite controversial and had to be arrived at in a court of law after city officials and the bank which owned the property could not agree on the land's value. Lakewood -- which had officially become a city in 1911 and whose population grew rapidly during the first few decades of the 20th-century -- spent generously for the benefit of its residents and has since continued to invest in Lakewood Park to make it a true community center.
The land that became Lakewood Park previously belonged to Robert R. Rhodes (1845-1916), a wealthy Cleveland industrialist active in the coal, railroad, and banking industries. Daniel P. Rhodes (1813-1875), Robert's father and an early developer of Cleveland's coal mining industry, began buying land in Lakewood (then Rockport Township) in the late 1860s. After Daniel died in 1875, Robert continued to add to his father's Lakewood land holdings and built a summer house on the family's lakefront property in 1881. Known as "The Hickories," Rhodes and his family eventually moved into the house on a full-time basis in 1890, vacating their residence on Ohio City's ritzy Franklin Boulevard. After Robert's death, this house would serve as a convalescent home for wounded World War I soldiers and a temporary hospital during the influenza epidemic of 1918 before becoming home to Lakewood City Hall in 1920. The location of the city hall inside a former mansion created some interesting situations. The Finance Director, for instance, had his office inside of a re-purposed bathroom (the fixtures had been removed), while the Lakewood Water Department set up shop in the dining room. The Rhodes house was demolished in 1959 after City Hall moved to a new location.
Over the years, the city has added a swimming pool, picnic pavilions, a skateboard park, ball fields, and a bandshell to Lakewood Park to meet the recreational needs of its residents. The city has also altered the landscape of the park, adding breakwalls and fill material along the shoreline to prevent erosion of the steep cliffs leading down to the lake. In 2006, the Lakefront Promenade opened, running alongside the breakwall and offering scenic views of Downtown Cleveland. With the opening of the promenade, which sits on man-made land reclaimed from Lake Erie, the city created a beautiful lakeside space that delights those who frequent it, while also serving the ongoing goal of erosion control.