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Once upon a time, summer was a time for sea bathing, playing croquet, sailing and walking. Life didn’t have the hectic pace that keeps us distracted today. Thousands of people would flock to the beaches in the summers and especially on the weekends. Many people would even seek out Mineral Springs, looking for medicinal benefits. Swimming was much more popular in those days. The average home didn’t have running water, so baths were usually taken out of doors or on a trip to town.

Coney Island became an Amusement Resort, as did Atlantic City and many other towns along the ocean shore. It is considered to be the birthplace of the American Amusement Park. Several luxury hotels were built there in the 1870’s and a ten-mile railroad was extended there from the city. Coney Island was described as “Heaven at the End of a Subway Ride”. They also called it the Nickel Empire. Every ride cost 5 cents and so did a hot dog or a pop.

The Famed artisan Charles Looff came to Coney Island from Europe in the 1870’s and he carved wooden animals that were attached to a circular floor that turned in circles. It opened in 1875 and it was known as a Carry-Us-All or Carousel. Among the many parks he built rides for was Seattle’s Luna Park.

Lamarcus Thompson, who built many of the rides at Portland’s Council Crest, built the world’s first Roller Coaster, the Switchback Railroad, in 1884 at Coney Island. George Tilyou built Coney Island’s first Ferris Wheel in 1894 at the Bowery, near the Iron Tower, which was built for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and moved to Coney Island a year later. Tilyou built several other amusements that were scattered around Coney Island.

The world’s first enclosed Amusement Park was built at Coney Island in 1895. Sea Lion Park had several rides, including a Shoot-the-Chutes water slide, an Old Mill Ride and a Sea Lion show. Poor weather and bad economic conditions forced the closure of Sea Lion Park in 1902.

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An enterprising man named George Tilyou had several rides and in 1897, he consolidated all of his rides into one place by the Ferris Wheel. Tilyou called it Steeplechase Park. A new ride, the Trip to the Moon was built by partners Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy for Steeplechase in 1901. Two years later, it was the centerpiece of their newly opened Luna Park.

A year later, in 1904, former New York State Senator William Reynolds opened Dreamland to record crowds and his theme was “Bigger and Better”. Whatever Luna built, Dreamland had to build it bigger and better. Where Luna had 250,000 lights, Dreamland had a million. On opening day, 135,000 eager patrons visited the park.

At the turn of the century, Portland had 90,000 residents and it was the largest Metropolis in the Northwest, Portland had the busiest port up the coast from San Francisco. The Alaska Gold Rush and the Railroads began to make Seattle boom. Portland’s leaders decided a World’s Fair would bring the masses to Portland and they summoned the cutting-edge amusements of the day to come to Portland to help build the Lewis & Clark Exposition.

 

Guild’s Lake provided a perfect location for the popular Chute-the-Chutes at the Lewis & Clark Exposition

Portland’s extensive Streetcar system connected its people with its stores, schools and businesses that offered employment. The Streetcars also provided a means of access to Portland’s parks and amusements. Several amusement parks were built at the end of the Streetcar lines to encourage rider ship. Talk about “Heaven at the End of a Streetcar Ride!!”

There was the hustle and bustle of the city with its many growing neighborhoods with brand-new houses that offered new amenities such as electric lights and plumbing with heated water. On weekends and especially after church on Sundays, everyone would flock to the Amusement Parks.

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You could ride a streetcar for a half hour or so and get from one end of Portland to the other. There was Council Crest, Blue Lake, Jantzen Beach and Oaks Park.

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Portland’s Oaks Park  celebrated 103 Years of continuous operation on May 30, 2008

The only amusement park in Portland that survives today is Oaks Park in Sellwood along the Willamette River, which was Portland’s first Amusement Park, opening in 1905. A friendly rivalry developed between the builders of Oaks Park and the Lewis & Clark Expo and they had a race to see which could open first. Oaks Park opened two days before the Expo, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1905.

In its first season, over 300,000 people packed the streetcars to visit the park and over 30,000 people would visit the park on Sundays and holidays. Oaks Park had a 4000-seat auditorium and The Oaks was said to have been John Philip Sousa’s favorite place to perform, having been there numerous times.

In the 1950s an elephant would roller skate down the Midway. Oaks Park is the oldest amusement park on the West Coast and the Skating Rink is the oldest one West of the Mississippi. The Oaks has survived three major floods.

At the northernmost tip of Portland, along the Columbia River shore, there was: Jantzen Beach Park on Hayden Island, as well as Columbia Beach and Lotus Isle, which were on what we know of today as Tomahawk Island. Jantzen Beach maintained a loyal following for over 40 years while Columbia Beach sustained operations for about 10 years and Lotus Isle, Portland’s largest amusement park, was only in operation for three seasons. Many people aren’t aware that there was a mountain-top amusement park at Council Crest.

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In 1905, a huge tree was hollowed out and placed at the top of Council Crest. The Lewis & Clark Elevator went to the top of the tree to an Observation Tower.

 

The Big Tree was so popular that an amusement park was built and The Dreamland of the Northwest, opened on Memorial Day in 1907. Council Crest’s dance hall at the “Top of the Town” was the hottest place to go on a Summer evening. There was a Scenic Railway (roller coaster) and the Columbia River Water Log Ride, which encircled the park. Just as the nation was heading into the great Depression, the park closed on Labor Day 1929 after several seasons of falling revenues.

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On warm Sunday afternoons during the summer, a crowd of over 15,000 people would be found at Columbia Beach

 

The Portland Railway Light & Power Company conceived of Columbia Beach on Sand Island, (now Tomahawk Island), just to the east of Jantzen Beach. After several delays, Columbia Beach finally opened on August 5, 1916 after heavy August rains and unusually high water in the Columbia River.

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Columbia Beach had excellent camping facilities and the dance floor was one of the largest in the country. There were dances seven days a week. There was a miniature railway, a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a motordome, a midway, athletic fields, a delicatessen, a grocery store and a roller skating pavilion.

Columbia Beach was very popular until the Dance Hall burned in 1926 and the park never recovered. When ownership of the streetcar lines changed several years earlier, a new group of investors had taken over ownership of the park.

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Roller Coaster in 1924

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Jantzen Beach Amusement Park was heralded as Portland’s Million Dollar Playground. When it opened on Memorial Day, May 26, 1928, Jantzen Beach was the largest amusement park in the nation. The park sprawled over 123 acres at Hayden Island at the northern tip of Portland.

There was the huge Dipper Roller Coaster, the thrill rides, the Midway games and the midget auto racing. There was the Golden-Canopied Ballroom, which attracted big name bands, and people from all over the world came to compete in the dance competitions, which were complete with orchestras.

 

Built in 1928 by the legendary Coaster Designer Carl Phare, the Big Dipper was the biggest and best roller coaster in the West. Lasting for over four decades, the Dipper was the source of many happy memories for millions of Amusement Park enthusiasts.

In 1948, the season opening at Jantzen Beach was delayed by the Vanport flood. Those who survived the flood moved away. The loss of people living in the immediate vicinity led to the loss of patrons to the park and attendance never did reach pre-flood levels. In 1958, the State Highway Division doubled the size of the Interstate Bridge by adding the western span to match the eastern span. The new span goes right through the area that was once the Jantzen Beach Swimming Pool.

A significant portion of the park was given up for the bridge expansion. The Old Dutch Mill and the Fun House were lost to a fire on March 29, 1960. After years of dwindling revenues, the park closed on Labor Day in 1970 and the rides were sold. The buildings were razed to build a shopping center.

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The 100-foot neon Eiffel Tower Sign at the entrance was visible from the West Hills to Vancouver.

When it opened on June 28, 1930, Lotus Isle was the largest amusement park in Portland on 128 acres. It was located just east of Jantzen Beach at the site of the old Columbia Beach. Lotus Isle was known as the “Wonderland of the Pacific Northwest” and you could take in over 40 rides.

 

The Bulldog guarded the Bumper Car Ride

 

You could win this 1931 Chevrolet as well as a home Radio and many other prizes. Over $1500 in prizes was awarded. The Grand Ballroom, which cost $60,000 had a wide veranda overhanging the lake.

From the beginning, it was dreamed up as a sham to extort money from the successful Jantzen Beach. It was not meant to be built, but it opened on a shoestring budget and it was said to have had gangland connections. A boy drowned while swimming there the first season and the president committed suicide the next day.

Many unfortunate problems beset the park including a low flying plane that crashed into the amusements and an elephant that went on a rampage. The damaged rides were never rebuilt. It was the birthplace of the Dance Marathon circuit and the organizers would go on to achieve fame and fortune all over the country. One of them would later start Roller Derby.

The Dance Hall burned the second season and dances were held the final season on the Blue Swan, a barge which was docked on the Columbia River. The park never recovered and it closed in 1932. A bonfire was set when the park closed to virtually destroy all memory of the park. About all we have are the newspaper accounts on microfilm.

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Blue Lake Park which is located seven miles east of Portland, near Fairview, opened on July 3, 1925. The photo above from July 3, 1960, shows the Blue Lake Dance Hall and the Merry Mix-up Swing Ride. Blue Lake will be remembered for swimming, boating, picnics, concerts, dancing and rides for all ages. The original Dance Pavilion burned in 1928 and it was soon replaced with the building above. Multnomah County took over the park in 1960 and removed all the rides. It is still a popular place for swimming and picnicking. Few pictures of Blue Lake exist and not much memorabilia is available.

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Oak Grove Beach was mentioned in the July 1, 1925 edition of the Portland News. The Park and Amusement Resort was opened on 70 acres and it was accessible via the Milwaukie and Oregon City streetcars. The article tells of rides, water chutes, toboggans, floats and high dives that were lit up by floodlights so the park could stay open till 11:00 at night.                                                                                 

 

Crystal Lake Park in Milwaukie, circa 1906

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Last updated 03-21-13

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