Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Blast From The Past - Walled Lake Amusement Park

Just 25 miles from Detroit, Walled Lake was the closest beach to the Detroit area and was a perfect place for people in the city to swim and picnic. The lake’s name came from the “walls” on the bottom of the lake. The park’s beginning was much like parks in the early 1900's, the beach attracted people and the people attracted businesses. In 1919 when Jake and Ernest Taylor opened a dance hall Two years later, Herman Czenkusch provided some competition with a waterfront cottage community, dance hall and water slides down the road from the Taylors' complex.

The park opened on Memorial Day of 1929 and was a huge hit. Unfortunately, Herman Czenkusch died in Aug 1928 and never witnessed this enormous success.

The stock market crashed on October 24, marking the beginning of the Great Depression. Not to be out done Louis Tolettene had become successful with the dance hall, but he was nearly wiped out by a run on the bank.

The dance hall managed to survive, as did Walled Lake Amusement Park. The park and pavilion were ways to get-away from worldly woes offering entertainment, such as speed boat rides for 15 to 25 cents each, water slides and waterfront access for family picnics.

The Depression years passed and World War II brought a business boom. The Walled Lake businesses continued to prosper. After the war, a new generation of Tolettene leadership, strengthened the dance hall by bringing in big-name entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and Lawrence Welk, who maintained a residence near Walled Lake. In fact a lot of the musicians who played at the casino stayed with people living in nearby cottages with while they were performing at Walled Lake

At the park, the Pierce family added more popular rides, such as bumper cars and a Tilt-A-Whirl. The new rides attracted more people and major picnic gatherings. Ford Motor Co. once held an employee family picnic at the park that drew more than 25,000 people,

On the park’s busier days, the income for one day could reach up $50,000. While that is just a drop in the bucket these days, just think about it. The park didn't charge admission, parking was free and the park didn’t sell souvenirs. So, all that income came from food and ride tickets that sold for 5 cents each. Granted some rides did cost three, four, or five tickets. But, that’s a lot of food and rides!

Walled Lake Park continued to flourish during the 50's, but with lots of lakes in the area beach traffic was slowing and backyard pools only add to that decline. Luckily the picnic business was booming and military exhibitions featuring tanks and armored vehicles were popular. There was a major concern about waste from the park restrooms oozing into the lake.

In the early 60s, the pavilion stage featured a concert performance by newcomer Little Stevie Wonder (whatever happened to that guy?) and a show by Chuck Berry. The pavilion continued to draw more than 2,000 people for dancing and entertainment. By the mid-60s, popularity declined and the pavilion transformed from a dance hall to a dance club, with radio disk-jockeys spinning rock-and-roll tunes replacing live bands. In December 1965, an accidental fire devastated the pavilion.

For the park, after Fred Pierce’s 1958 death from a heart attack, his son, Fred Jr. ran the park for a few years before selling it to the Wagner family in 1962.

The park was renamed in Edgewater Park and continued to operate until 1968. Progress can be blamed for its demise. Bigger, more modern parks, color television and the park’s aging equipment, along with a lack of interest in that type of entertainment.


Kevin said...

Hi there--
What are those PeopleMover type photos? Any info on those?

JEL said...

This is a people mover system that was built in 1972 for the WORLD TRANSPO SHOW in DULLES AIRPORT, WASHINGTON D.C. It was designed and built by Commerce Industries of Commerce, Michigan, 4 miles north of Walled Lake. It is the only one of 4 that actually worked. The other three companies that attempted a working system were Ford, G.E., and Otis Elevator. The owner of Commerce Industries, Doc Lawson rented a house next to the Walled Lake Amusement Part back in the 1940's. I know this because I worked at Commerce Industries for 15 years.

Kevin said...

Thanks JEL! Interesting info!