When you love something with your whole heart, your desire to defend it at every possible chance is unrelenting. This is how I feel about Lakeside Amusement Park. Not that this magical place needs any more positive public words from me, but it still feels like each summer, I hear the same misunderstanding grumbles about the park that holds my heart.
As I continue to contemplate the future placement of my "Lake Rhoda" tattoo (honoring the body of water that Lakeside sits beside) and in advance of Reel Social Club's second annual Summer Scream private park party at Lakeside this Thursday, August 30, here are seven reasons why the old-school amusement park rules more than any other place on the planet.
10. The Architecture Though the park opened in 1908 and its gleaming "Tower of Jewels" that can be seen down Sheridan Boulevard reflects turn-of-the-last-century architectural style, the majority of the park's memorable structures were designed by Richard Crowther in the late-'40s and early '50s. A pioneer of solar and energy-efficient architecture, Crowther was also was a master at using neon lighting to accent his work.
The art-deco style of rounded edges and sleek movement-simulating lines makes Crowther's structures easy to spot throughout the park. Luckily, Lakeside has taken care of his work over the years, adding little more than a fresh coat of paint to the beautiful ticket booths and ride houses. Crowther's art-deco masterpieces are best enjoyed in person, but if you can't make it to the park, check out The Denver Eye and Modmidmod.com's collections of photos and renderings.
9. Mature trees! When Elitch Gardens picked up and moved downtown two decades ago, it couldn't take its vegetation along. But Lakeside's still got it, along with beautiful buildings, and there are plenty of shaded spots throughout the park to take a break from the heat. Take a ride on the Hurricane (also known as the "planes" by long-standing Lakeside fans) and get up close and personal with the trees, as they almost (but just miss) whipping you in the face.
8. BYO-food If you're sneaky, you can BYO-adult beverages into Lakeside (though by no means do we advocate drinking and riding.) There's plenty of great, greasy food inside the park, but you can stay on your no-fun, I mean, gluten-free and vegan diet if you want, and bring a picnic to Lakeside. There are picnic tables where the five or five hundred of you can enjoy a nice dinner before riding the rides. And the picnic-friendly policy helps keep Lakeside affordable for all.
7. Soft serve While you can BYO ice cream to the park if you want, you can also enjoy a wobbly twist cone, which teenage vendors sell for under $3. Oversized, icy cold and messy, soft-serve ice cream is best (if only) enjoyed in public. Not one for ice cream? Grub on the park's pizza, popcorn, funnel cakes and hot dogs on the cheap -- because for under $20 (during the weekday, anyway) you can get unlimited rides and a meal.
6. Living history When it first opened in 1908, Lakeside was known as White City, for its thousands of white lights. Though many of the original structures are gone or closed to the public, remnants of the park's theaters and restaurants remain -- including the small tower in the bottom right corner of the postcard above, which you see as you walk from the center of the park, up to the Skoota Boats and Matterhorn. Next time you're at the park, take a closer look: The Riviera Ballroom that has been closed for decades is still intact, as is the Casino Theater (now used for storage). And the Staride -- seen below, and apparently an actual relic from the White City days -- sits car-less and inoperable in the middle of the park.
5. No lines for rides Okay, so there may be a ten-minute wait for the Cyclone on a hoppin' night, but most of the time, lines are minimal. Lakeside provides the perfect balance -- not too crowded, but by no means void of people in a way that feels creepy. Plus, the little time you do have to wait goes by quickly if you're into people-watching, architecture-ogling or just nosy like me and enjoy listening in on other riders' conversations.
4. The Cyclone rollercoaster Built in 1940, the Cyclone is the biggest attraction in the park. A real wooden coaster, the Cyclone pushes terrified riders through a pitch-black tunnel entrance before pulling the rickety-feeling string of cars up a steep track. The thing shakes and rattles just like an old rollercoaster ride should, and rounds out along the edge of Lake Rhoda in one last scary and awesome brush with almost-death.3. Lights
Sure, the architecture and beautiful, old trees make Lakeside nice to look at in the day, but at night, it is all about the lights. Giving the small park its true ambiance, bends of neon pinks and greens glow from ride signs and can be seen from across the water on a late-night train trip around the lake. Strings of lights hang from branches in the Kiddie Playland, and Crowther's ticket-booth designs utilize as many neon tubes as some of the rides.
2. The joint is cheap! Or at last inexpensive: $2 gets you in the gates, and $2.50 gets you one ride, if that's all you fancy. Unlimited ride wristbands run $20 and even less during the week, and if you check those damn Valpaks that have been coming in the mail since 1985, you can probably find a coupon that makes it even cheaper. Remember the last time you dropped less than a twenty for anything? Me, neither. Ride your bike to Lakeside and save yourself even more money.
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1. Romance is always in the air Put reasons two through ten together and you've got an awesome date spot -- light on the wallet and full of charm, Lakeside can make anyone fall in love. You don't have to worry about a lack of things to talk about, either; between screaming from riding the Wild Chipmunk, Cyclone and the Spider and listening in on your fellow park-goers' conversations, there's no room for awkward silences. Plus, if you ride the Satellite enough times in a row, you can't hear anything, either.