The Lakewood Public Schools - 1984: A Compilation of Histories

Summary of the History of Recreation in the City of Lakewood

The history of recreation in Lakewood goes back to World War I. On June 21, 1918 the City of Lakewood received a receipt from the Citizens Savings and Trust Company for $214,500 which covered the purchase price of the Rhodes Estate, currently known as Lakewood Park. Immediately after the property was acquired improvements were made for the purpose of making it desirable for park use. Picnic tables were purchased the first year, fencing was erected soon after, and the following year saw the construction of toilet facilities and the installation of lights.

Ten years prior to the acquisition of the Rhodes property, the City received from Ann Wagar almost two acres of land in the Madison-Hilliard area. This area, known as Wagar Park, was accepted by the city for a public park and/or library site. The terms of the agreement required the city to make certain improvements to the plot, thus making it desirable for park use. The city complied with these demands with the result that today Wagar Park is a well developed facility.

Madison Park was purchased for the sum of $40,000 during February, 1917. In 1919 $11,000 was voted by Council to improve the site for park purpose. Equipment similar to the type in Lakewood Park was purchased and installed.

At about this same time Scenic Park was purchased from the Clifton Park Association and the name changed to Lincoln Park. Eventually the operation of the property was turned over to the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board as Lakewood's contribution to the Cleveland Metropolitan Regional Park System. Lakewood still retains title to the area, however, and the ball diamonds are operated by the Lakewood Recreation Department.

The city initiated a recreational program shortly after these large areas were acquired. In 1921 the City Council voted funds for a summer recreation program. That first city appropriation providing for leadership was extended for an additional two weeks when the Council voted a further appropriation of $100. Even at that early date, incidentally, certain patterns of playground desires and use showed up that have continued until the present time.

Lakewood Park and the Harrison School grounds were the first two areas selected for the summer play program. From the very outset the program at the Harrison School was successful insofar as attracting children was concerned. The picture was not so favorable at Lakewood Park, though, because few children ventured there. The danger of crossing two main streets was one of the main reasons given for this negative attraction. The recreation program was flexible enough so that soon afterwards it was transferred to Wagar Park, and there immediately showed its worth by reason of the fact that it attracted large crowds of children.

Later that same summer playground apparatus was installed at Madison Park where it had the effect of introducing another large group of children to the advantages of supervised play. The supervisor at Harrison Playground devoted part, and at times all, of each afternoon to the new Playground and in company with the other director spent every evening at Madison Park.

The Y.M.C.A. cooperated with the city program that same year by operating two schoolgrounds, Garfield and Grant-Wilson. The School Board, too, participated in the early recreation effort by opening one of its buildings for the purpose of providing a home for handwork and handicraft programs. This particular activity was also under the supervision of the Women's Civic Club, however.

Though the above described program catered only to children, the city was making progress in the adult recreation movement with the installation of additional improvements in the Parks designed for adult use. Tennis courts and the picnic facilities at Lakewood Park were the initial facilities added. As time went on, other things such as ball diamonds, shelter houses, and the band shell in Lakewood Park were provided.

Bonds were issued for these early capital improvements, a practice that has continued to the present day, but the costs of operation of the program were supplied by funds taken from the Park Department.

At the time of the acquisition of the Rhodes property most of the development of the city was taking place north of Detroit Avenue. However, some of the earliest and most intensive growth of Lakewood took place in the area in the immediate vicinity of the carbon works, in the southeast portion of the city. The first two great surges of population growth in Lakewood occurred in the southeast and north portions of the city in 1914 and 1916. Madison and Lakewood Parks were ideally located in reference to the populations they were designed to serve, with the exception of the difficulty encountered with conducting the children's play program at Lakewood Park. Wagar Park was laid out in anticipation of population growth in the southwesterly part of the city. That particular growth occurred in 1922-23 and it was not much later that Lakewood was virtually built up.

Municipal participation in recreation was already an accepted fact in the early 20's, as witnessed by the fact that the City Council appropriated funds for it in 1921, and the following years, but the lack of an agency charged with both the administration and the development of additional play areas resulted in a lack of the types of play areas so essential to a well-balanced recreation program.

Aside from the actual capital improvement program of the Park System the recreational appropriations were increased from year to year. The program was so developed by 1925 that it took more money to keep it going than could be spared from the operating budget of the Park Department. As a result, a tax levy proposal providing for a 1/10 mill for recreational purposes was submitted to the public. The electorate approved the issue, which incidentally, was for a five year period, and this meant that the recreation program finally had its own source of income. The initial sum amounted to about $14,000 in 1925, and rose each year as the tax duplicate of the city increased. In 1930 the same issue, again for 1/10 mill was submitted to the citizens and again was approved for a five year period.

The overall administration of the recreation program had become quite complex by 1925. This was primarily due to the many organizations interested in participating in the recreation program. The City Council sought to clarify the matter by relinquishing its control of the program and giving it over to the Board of Education. The Board agreed to this proposal and has been in charge of recreation ever since. It was agreed that the city would maintain city owned play areas, such as Wagar and Madison Parks, but the Board would assume the responsibility of providing the program and supervision on the areas, in addition, of course, to supervising the play on school owned property. Lakewood Park was exempted from this because it was developed for a different type of operation. The agreement has worked out satisfactorily, but it would seem to place an undue burden on the Board of Education should the city acquire more properties than the Board could possibly supervise.

When the Board first took over the recreation program funds were available only for the director and secretary, and the program was no more extensive than the type formerly carried out by the city. Gradually, though, the program expanded as more and more school grounds were put in use and the scope broadened, until today almost all of the school grounds, plus the city owned facilities, are in use. Coincident with the increase in properties put to recreational use is the increase in staff, today numbering almost 85 full time and part time helpers for the summer program. Many innovations in program have been adopted since then, so that at the present time it is almost 85 full time and part time helpers for the summer program. Many innovations in program have been adopted since then, so that at the present time it is almost unrecognizable from what it was twenty-five years ago. Furthermore, the school buildings and their special facilities, such as the swimming pool at the High School, and almost all the school gyms are used, something which was not done when the program was first undertaken.
In 1935 the special recreation levy was again submitted to the voters, this time for 1/15 mill. It came within 400 tallies of getting the required 65% of the vote, so as a result, even though the levy was actually voted down, the Board of Education felt encouraged to continue the program because such a clear majority of those citizens voting indicated they were in favor of having recreation. Accordingly, part of the Board's 1935 2 mill operating levy was used for recreational purposes.

Later the Recreation Department operated on a $38,000 budget, $30,000 of which is granted by the Board of Education and $8,000 received from fees. Most of this money was expended on program. Very little going for capital outlay with the exception of the money spent for supplies, game equipment, and other comparatively small purchases. As described earlier, the city maintained all of its areas, even though the recreation department operated them. The city, through its Park and Forestry Department, also maintained the ball diamonds in Lincoln Park, which were in turn operated by the Recreation Board Association, as a gesture of cooperation. The city also maintained the diamonds in Clague Park, the use of which was also governed by the Board of Education.

In 1942 the City Council, seeing that areas of a size sufficiently large enough for park purposes were rapidly becoming scarce, requested the city planning commission and the city engineer to prepare a study showing land available and suitable for park purposes. A map showing existing large tracts and their relationship to existing parks and school-grounds was prepared, and as a result of this study the Hall property, Andrews Field, and the Ellenberger-Allen properties were acquired for Park purposes. The latter parcels have since been re-named "Memorial Park", and were later used as the site of a Veteran Housing Project. These properties too, it is interesting to note, were acquired during a war period, the years of acquisition being 1943 and 1944. These buildings were raised to make room for the new Lakewood City Hall.

Recreation as a Government Function

Many agencies, public, quasi-public and private offer recreational services. The most common example of private (or commercial) recreation are the moving picture theatres and bowling alleys. Churches, Y.W.C.A. and Y.M.C.A. and scout groups are types 'of quasi-public agencies conducting recreational programs. The different levels of government, however, federal, state and county, and now the regional authorities are looked to by the public to provide recreational opportunities and facilities. Federal and state parks and forests such as the Smoky Mountain National Park, and Ohio's Kendall State Park are prototypes of the facilities offered by the first two named agencies, and counties too, usually provide large open areas, similar in nature to state parks, although the county park is generally closer to a center of population than the facilities provided by the state and federal governments. The Cook County Forest Reservation that rings Chicago is an example of a county park. The regional authority is a fairly new concept in the administration and operation of public recreational facilities, and is usually located on the periphery of a large city. Our own local Metropolitan Park is a splendid example of the type of facility provided by such an organization.

Most public play areas, other than those operated by the cities within their own borders, are located some distance away from the city and, accordingly, the distance factor makes it impossible to provide for the day to day needs of all members of the community. For instance, no parent would think of sending a young child to a playground four or five miles away from home unless he is accompanied by an adult. The logical result of this condition is that outlying parks usually do not provide the means for intensive play opportunities, except as incidental to the gathering of large crowds, as are found at picnics.

As a result of these conditions it has fallen to the municipality to provide the area for active play within the city's limits, and also to provide the personnel necessary to supervise and lead the play on the areas. This concept of the city's duties has grown within the last thirty or forty years, and now is an accepted fact in almost every community in the country. Most states, Ohio included, show their recognition of this by having passed legislation permitting cities to levy taxes for recreational purposes.

The reasons for Municipal management of recreation are:

1. Municipal recreation affords a large percentage of the people their only opportunity for forms of wholesome recreation.

2. It is only through government that adequate lands can be acquired.

3. Municipal recreation is democratic and inclusive (it is for all people, rich or poor, young or old).

4. Municipal recreation is comparatively inexpensive.

5. The municipal government gives permanency to recreation.

6. The complete job is too large for any private agency.

When talking about recreational area it becomes necessary to define terms. Recreation is usually divided into classes, active and passive, and each class has its own special requirements as far as areas are concerned. The term "active recreation" defines itself, meaning that the participants are engaged in brisk play such as baseball, tennis and golf. "Passive recreation" takes the form of the quiet enjoyment of the area or facilities, without requiring much exertion on the part of the participant. Picnickers are generally thought of as being the example of persons partaking in passive recreation, but spectators at athletic events enjoy passive recreation, as do parents who sit at playgrounds and watch their children engage in play activity.

These forms of recreation are carried out in the following types of areas:

Play lot - A small area for children preschool age. Generally it is of very small size, under a half acre. Such a facility is not usually provided by the city because its small size makes it uneconomical to operate. There are circumstances, though, that sometimes make it necessary for the city to operate this type of facility.

Playground - Primarily for children of grade school age, with a small area set aside for the use of preschool age children, and another area reserved for adults. The National Recreation Association's standard for the size of a playfield is 4-7 acres, based on the factor of one acre of land per 800 people. There should be a playground within one fourth to one half mile of every house, depending on population density. Besides the special area set aside for the exclusive use of preschool age children, space should be allocated for the special type of playground apparatus required for older children. Bordering the apparatus area should be a tract providing for the free play activities of the older age group. An athletic field is a must on the playground, for it can be used to play a great variety of sports other than the softball that is so popular in Lakewood. The suggested minimum size of the athletic field is almost three acres.

As the average age of population of the country continues to advance, increasingly more attention must be given towards providing the older age group greater opportunities for enjoying their leisure hours. Therefore a quiet portion of the playground with facilities for such activities as shuffle board and horse shoes should be set aside for the exclusive use of this age group. Benches and tables, too, increase the usefulness of this particular type area.

The inclusion of a shelter house rounds out the requisites necessary for the successful operation of a neighborhood playground.

Playfield - An area of from 12 to 20 acres located within a mile of every home, more or less, depending upon the density of the population. The playfield provides the same recreational facilities as the neighborhood playground, plus such special features as band shells, recreation buildings and swimming pools.

There are still other types of recreation areas, such as large parks and reservations, but Lakewood already has the good fortune to abut one of the better reservations in the country. The Metropolitan Park provides facilities for golf, baseball, softball, horseback riding, hiking, nature paths and picnicking, and park drives that present a panorama of ever changing vistas.

According to the standards promulgated by the National Recreation Association and the other agencies interested in recreation, Lakewood has only one park, and it is too small to provide all of the activities and areas expected from a park. Madison Park must be considered as a playfield, and the other city owned areas actually are neighborhood playgrounds. Proof of the validity of the classifications is found in the observation that Madison Park is limited in the type of recreational facilities offered, it being physically impossible to conduct there the variety of activities that should be accommodated in a park. The success that Madison Park has had with the Lakewood public speaks well for the people that operate and use it.

The Metropolitan Park offers an opportunity for some of Lakewood's youngsters to partake in day camp activities. A camp lodge was constructed in the reservation by the Lakewood Kiwanis Club in 1925 and its operation delegated to the Y.M.C.A. Both the Y.M.C.A. and the Kiwanis Club sponsor day camp programs at the lodge by providing the transportation to the park and play leaders for groups of youngsters, but the camp offers opportunities for many other organizations to sponsor such trips. A facility that provides so much enjoyment should get better use.

The boy scouts have a reservation in the park set aside for them, and use it fairly intensively. Another special facility provided by the Metropolitan Park Board is a golf course. Some arrangement should be made to make it possible to use the course as part of the city's recreation program, so that golfing instruction could be given to Lakewood residents. This was tried a few years ago, but the costs were prohibitive so the program was dropped.

The stands at the baseball field in Madison Park make it possible to use the field as a stadium, but the park is not centrally located in relation to the population of Lakewood, and besides because of the interest in baseball it is important that the field be used for that sport almost exclusively.

Other than two skating rinks, no provision has been made for winter sports, despite the fact that it is a booming activity in other northern cities. Enough snow can be expected in a normal winter to make it feasible to plan some kind of a winter program.

The possibility of developing special recreational areas and facilities such as swimming pools, public beaches and golf courses should be investigated. There is much to be said in favor of these and a great many cities of Lakewood's size have one or more such properties. There is currently much interest expressed on the subject of a municipal swimming pool for the city. Many factors must be considered, because such an operation is quite complex. However, the proposition is feasible and is definitely worthy of study.

The successful community center programs conducted by the recreation department in the school buildings seem to indicate that perhaps a city recreation building is unnecessary. As in the case of the subject of a swimming pool, more study than is the province of this particular report will be necessary to determine the fact.

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The Summary of the History of Recreation in the City of Lakewood was completed in 1949 under the direction of Charles A. Foster, director, Adult Education and Recreation (1936-1967).