Lakewood Park

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.

Images

Breakwall Construction, 1956

Breakwall Construction, 1956

Lakewood Mayor Frank P. Celeste (second from left) visits workers during the construction of a breakwall in Lakewood Park in 1956. A 14-ton pre-cut boulder is being lowered by a crane into position on the water's edge. The breakwall was built by the city in an effort to curtail the erosion of the cliffs (caused by the constant pounding of waves) which the park sits on top of. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

City Hall, 1938

City Hall, 1938

Lakewood Police Chief L.B. Miller (second from left) and Mayor Amos Kauffman (fourth from left) pose with officials from Chevrolet in front of City Hall (formerly the home of Robert Rhodes) at Lakewood Park to accept Chevy automobiles for use by the Lakewood Police Department. Old barns and horse stables on the Rhodes Estate had by then been converted into city garages where the new vehicles were stored. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

City Dump, 1935

City Dump, 1935

The Lakewood city dump sat below Lakewood Park on the shoreline of Lake Erie from the 1920s until the 1960s. A breakwall surrounded the dump and prevented most of the waste from polluting the lake. When the dump was removed, it created room for more parkland and an extension of the park down to the shoreline. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Aerial View, Circa 1955

Aerial View, Circa 1955

This aerial view of Lakewood Park was taken sometime between the opening of Foster Pool in 1953 and the demolition of City Hall (the former home of Robert Rhodes) in 1959. The structures across from the pool on the other side of the parking lot are the city garage and (at the extreme top right corner) City Hall. At the top of this image is the city dump, which sat along the shoreline until being removed in the 1960s. This land would be filled in after the removal of the dump to create more parkland and, later on, the Lakefront Promenade. Image courtesy of the Lakewood Engineer's Office View File Details Page

City Hall Demolition, 1959

City Hall Demolition, 1959

In 1881, Robert Rhodes built his summer home on land that would later become Lakewood Park. This house became Lakewood City Hall in 1920 after the city purchased the old Rhodes Estate in 1918. In 1958, it was reported that the house needed $200,000 in repairs to prevent its condemnation by the State Fire Marshal. Dangerous wiring, sagging floors, rodent infestation, and a boiler room that was not fireproof were among the house's numerous problems. Rather than make the repairs, the city decided to build a new City Hall on Detroit Avenue. In this photograph from December 1959, a crowd gathers as the demolition of the old City Hall begins. Image courtesy of Lakewood Historical Society View File Details Page

Concert, June 1968

Concert, June 1968

Free concerts are still held in the Lakewood Park bandshell during the summer months. Musical performances were a summertime tradition at the park even before the construction of the bandshell. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Foster Pool, 1953

Foster Pool, 1953

The Foster Pool at Lakewood Park opened in 1953 and is named in honor of Charles A. Foster, Commissioner of the Lakewood Recreation Department from 1936-1967. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Michael Rotman, “Lakewood Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 29, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/210.

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