Colorado History

Lakeside Amusement Park: Five Surprising Facts and Five Unanswered Questions

It's not a summer in Denver without a trip to Lakeside Amusement Park. Built in 1908, the park is a testament to the enduring appeal of old-fashioned thrill rides and neon lights.  

It's also the subject of Denver's Lakeside Amusement Park: From the White City Beautiful to a Century of Fun, the most comprehensive history of these hallowed grounds. Westword recently spoke with author David Forsyth, who revealed some previously unknown details about Lakeside — such as the fact that the park was never called White City (a false claim even we messed up in our 2014 list "Ten things you didn't know about Lakeside Amusement Park.") There was so much more that we learned from that conversation; below we share five more interesting tidbits about Lakeside Amusement Park — followed by five questions that linger after reading Forsyth's book.

5. Lakeside was the fifth amusement park built in the metro area, and only one of two from its era to survive.
Lakeside is technically the baby of the amusement-park craze in Colorado. Elitch Gardens' original Northside location opened in 1890 (first as actual gardens and a zoological park, then as a full-fledged amusement park in 1900). Manhattan Beach on Sloan's Lake opened in 1891 (it was touted as the "First Amusement Park in the West"), Arlington Park in 1892 (on the banks of Cherry Creek bordering the Alamo Placita neighborhood) and Tuileries Park in 1906 in Englewood. Finally, Lakeside Amusement Park opened in the tiny enclave of Lakeside, northwest of Denver, in 1908.  

4. The park remained segregated until 1948.
Even though local and national jazz acts and big bands featuring African-American musicians — like Colorado's own superstar violinist and bandleader George Morrison — played to sold-out crowds at Lakeside, the park itself was segregated for the first forty years. In 1925, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at Lakeside, in the middle of Denver mayor — and KKK member — Ben Stapleton's first term. Stapleton would go on to be re-elected and serve five terms; he remains one of the most well-known figures in Denver's KKK past. Though the park itself desegregated in 1948, Lakeside's indoor swimming pool remained segregated until its closure in the 1960s. 

3. Elitch Gardens and Lakeside maintained a spirited rivalry, joining forces just once in 1952.
The two Northside amusement parks were forever competing, enticing customers with sophisticated rides, the offer of fine dining and dancing establishments right in the park, and a variety of entertainment options, such as plays, live music, beauty competitions and more. But in 1952, the parks co-hosted the summer conference of the national Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches, when more than 100 park operators from around the country came to Colorado.

Speaking of the competition, both parks boast well-known and -loved wooden roller coasters: Lakeside's Cyclone started rolling in 1940, 24 years before Elitch's Twister came to be. In 1994, the full-scale competition ended when Elitch Gardens left north Denver and the century-old trees and gardens, and moved to the Platte Valley, where it was first known as Six Flags Elitch Gardens. (After Six Flags pulled out of the park almost ten years ago, the original name was restored.)

The rivalry may continue in spirit today, but the two parks could not look and feel more different.

2. The Speedway helped keep Lakeside Amusement Park profitable — and relevant. 
Opened in 1938, the one-fifth-mile oval track signaled the official transition from Lakeside's more elite "City Beautiful" era to its current incarnation as a working-class gathering place. Big race nights would bring crowds of more than 10,000 people, and in the '50s, portions of Sunday night races were televised locally. Through its five decades of operation, the Speedway hosted midget racers, boxing and wrestling matches (during World War II), stock cars and Powder Puff races. With the exception of then-park owner Ben Krasner's daughter Rhoda (the park's current owner), women were not allowed in the pits — not even the Powder Puff drivers. The ban was lifted shortly before the Speedway closed in 1988. 

In another financially savvy move, Ben Krasner sold a portion of the land inside the town of Lakeside to investors who wanted to build a shopping mall. Lakeside Mall opened in 1956 and would see many facelifts before it was demolished in the late 2000s. The area is now home to a Walmart.
1. The Staride became inoperable when its cars were lost in a 1973 storage fire.
Constructed in 1913, made completely of steel and thought to be the only one of its kind ever built, the Staride was the park's first Ferris wheel-type ride. For the last few decades, though, only a skeleton of the ride has stood on the grounds near the Merry Go-Round, its frame overgrown with vines and weeds and its fate a constant guessing game. When the former swimming-pool building, which was being used as storage, caught fire in 1973, the park lost the blueprints for the Staride, as well as its new drive system and all but one of the Staride's rounded, basket-style cars. That ended the ride's reign as one of the oldest in the park. The Whip, also installed in 1913, still operates today. 

And now, five questions about Lakeside: