Youngstown's Million Dollary Playground -by Vince Guerrieri
Article used by permission
Youngstown's Million Dollar Playground
Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio, was an amusement park with a story
similar to that of many other urban amusement parks. Built in 1899
by a street car company, it closed in 1984 after a devastating fire.
In the eighty-six summers it was open, the park built fond memories
for the many people who rode their first roller coaster there, or
met their future spouses and later took their families to company
In addition to emotional significance, Idora Park has a certain
historical importance. It was an innocent place in a grimy
industrial town, a place where working men and women went with their
families. Like the city of Youngstown, Idora Park went through
several stages in its life. When the park opened, it was surrounded
by empty land. As the park grew, so did the neighboring South Side
street car lines died out in the late 1920s and 1930s, Idora Park
forrged a new identity. It had previously linked itself to the
industrial base of Youngstown by becoming a location for company
picnics, but after the street cars stopped running, company picnics
became the park's lifeblood.
At its peak in the days immediately before and after World War II,
Idora Park was Youngstown's Million Dollar Playground, a nickname
which stuck until the end. It included a dance hall frequented by
the most popular artists of the day, a minor league baseball team, a
salt-water swimming pool and, in various stages, animal cages and
As the city of Youngstown changed, so too did Idora Park. While the
park's history is linked directly to that of the city of Youngstown,
there is broader historical picture. By the end of the first decade
of the twentieth century, every major city in Ohio as well as the
nation had a street car park: Euclid Beach in Cleveland, Westview
Park in Pittsburgh, Coney Island in Cincinnati, and Cheltenham Beach
in Chicago are but a few examples. For the most part, the amusement
parks that did not fail along with the streetcar lines or in the
Great Depression lasted on, like Idora Park, at least into the 1960s
Idora Park, which in fact endured well into the 1980s, was an
unusual case. Most small amusement parks that lingered that long
either fell prey to the declining neighborhood around them or were
gobbled up by massive theme parks like Six Flags, Disneyland,
Knott's Berry Farm, or King's Island. But Youngstown's heavy
industrial base made the town itself and Idora Park different from
any other urban amusement park. Idora Park was not a large tourist
attraction. It instead linked itself to the steel mills and
factories, becoming a popular place for local companies to hold the
aforementioned picnics. While this allowed Idora Park to dodge some
of the problems faced by other urban amusement parks, it opened the
park to others. When the steel mills, which employed so many of the
people who went to Idora Park, closed, throwing thousands out of
work, the Idora Amusement Company realized its days were numbered.
The park was in operation for just seven more seasons after "Black
Monday," the day in 1977 when Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed,
signaling the beginning of the end for the steel industry in
The story of Idora Park, as well as other small urban amusement
parks, shows a national urban history. The events in the park and
the city surrounding it are emblematic of problems faced by cities
throughout the twentieth century-- labor struggles, racial tension,
population shifts and the ultimate decline of the industrial base.
The problems in Youngstown were faced by cities across the nation,
and many of these problems manifested themselves in these urban
amusement parks which provide a window through which we can see the
changes in cities in the second half of the twentieth century.
Origins and Early Years of Terminal Park.
The Park and Falls Railway Company was the first street car line to
serve the area south of the Mahoning River, which bisects
Youngstown. The first street car serving the Park and Falls operated
on March 14, 1897. Within a year, cars were running every 20 minutes
along the Park and Falls route, which extended from Central Square
at the intersection of Market and Federal streets downtown to a park
at the end of the route, then called Terminal Park.
Terminal Park was born as a picnic ground at the end of the line in
1897. In 1899, a bandstand was added, as well as a carousel and a
"Casino," a theater which seated 2500 people.
The amusement park officially opened on Decoration Day, 1899.
Terminal Park was one of many street car parks built in the last
decade of the nineteenth century in order to entice people to ride
street cars on weekends. Street car lines were electrically powered,
and the company that provided electricity to these lines charged a
flat rate regardless of how much power was used. Not only would
amusement parks lure customers to ride their line on evenings and
weekends, but because of the flat rate charged by the power company,
operating the parks did not cost much beyond the initial
But while Terminal Park was a typical street car park in its
inception and its attractions, it was atypical in the way the city
grew around it. According to a report from the Youngstown Telegram,
"A quiet cow pasture changed into Willis avenue, the Fifth Avenue of
the South Side.... Like trees growing along a river in the desert,
new houses sprang along the whole route of the Park and Falls line
from the Market street viaduct to Mill Creek park. Then the building
boom spread laterally and new cross streets were opened, and real
estate dealers made the South Side the Mecca of home seekers."
People began to flock to Youngstown because of the low-skill
industrial jobs offered.
The population of Mahoning County exploded from 70,134 to 116,151
in the first decade of the twentieth century, according to federal
census records. In the winter of 1900, less than two years after
the opening of Terminal Park, Youngstown Iron Sheet and Tube was
incorporated. The word iron would eventually be dropped from its name,
and Youngstown Sheet and Tube would become the largest locally-owned
steel mill in the country. By 1910, the company had blast furnaces in
East Youngstown (later called Campbell); Struthers, a suburb of Youngstown
on Yellow Creek; and Brier Hill. A tradition started in the early years
of the twentieth century which lasted until the park's closing: thousands
of men would work at Sheet and Tube, or Republic Steel or General
Fireproofing or one of the industrial plants which dotted Youngstown
then play at Idora Park.
The amusement park was named Idora Park by Jessie Coulter, a teacher
in Fosterville, a neighborhood just southeast of the amusement park.
Still, exactly where Coulter got the name Idora Park is clouded in
mystery. The most popular theory is the parkÝs name was a running
together of the phrase "I adore a park." Other theories abound,
however. Old maps refer to Lanterman's Falls as "Idora Falls." This,
of course, begs the question of how the falls got their name.
Another theory of the park's name was advanced by John Melnick in
his history of Mill Creek Park, The Green Cathedral. Melnick said
the park's name was derived from the first name of a daughter of one
of the city transportation supervisors. An amusement park in
Oakland, California, which was also called Idora Park, took its name
in a like manner, with its namesake being the daughter of a
concessionaire. But whatever the origin of the park's name, it
By 1905, the park was beginning to take shape. According to a
booklet, Idora and Mill Creek Park, published by the Telegram Press,
the park contained a three-way figure-eight roller coaster, the
largest and costliest in Ohio, as well as a a dancing pavilion, a
theater, dining hall and lunch area.
park began to expand further in the second decade of the
twentieth century. In 1914, the Jack Rabbit, Idora Park's second
roller coaster, was built. The out-and-back style coaster, built by
the T.M. Harton Company, featured a canopy at the top of the first
hill and an open front seat on the first car. The roller coaster was
2,200 feet long and featured a side-friction mechanism, where the
wheels of the roller coaster rolled along the sides of the tracks.
That year also saw the construction of a new dance floor. The
open-air ballroom was based on that of Coney Island in New York and
was billed as the largest dance floor between New York and Chicago.
In 1915, the Mill Chute was added. A dark ride which ended by
traveling down a chute that led into a pool of water, it was the
first ride constructed at Idora Park by the Philadelphia Toboggan
Company. A baseball field with grandstands was also added around
In 1922, the original carousel was moved to Cascade Park
in New Castle, Pennsylvania, as a new Philadelphia Toboggan carousel
was installed in its place. The intricately-carved three-layer
carousel was one of 87 made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.
The 1920s saw the peak of streetcar parks, and streetcar lines in
general. In 1920, the number of amusement parks was around 2,000.
Fifteen years later, there were 303 amusement parks, most likely
because street car lines folded in the wake of increasing automobile
use. By 1920, the Park and Falls Railway Company was no longer. The
amusement park was run by Penn-Ohio Power and Light, who, in 1924,
sold Idora Park to the newly-incorporated Idora Amusement Company.
The president of the company was Charles Diebel. Rex Billings was
vice-president and general manager, a job he had filled for the
previous three years. It was Billings that nicknamed the park
"Youngstown's Million Dollar Playground." He said plans were in the
works for a $100,000 swimming pool. The pool, Billings said, would
be "the only bathing place of the kind for many miles around."
The natatorium, built in 1926, became one of the most lavish
swimming pools in the area. The circular concrete pool was
surrounded by sand trucked in from Atlantic City, and the water
which filled the pool was salt water, thanks to a salt deposit
discovered under the park property. Advertisements compared it to
swimming at the seashore. The pool was Deibel's idea, according to
his grandson Drew, who said Charles Deibel made a trip to Florida
every winter. "My grandfather loved the salt water," Deibel said.
"He thought it was healthy." Deibel's was proud of the pool and
claimed, "You don't have to go to Florida to swim in salt water. We
have it right here at Idora, practically in our back yards."
In 1930, another new roller coaster was built. The Wildcat, a
3,000-foot coaster offering a three-minute ride, truly was
state-of-the-art. The Wildcat was designed by Herb Schmeck, who held
100 patents for roller coaster innovations. It was an under-friction
roller coaster, where the wheels were under the tracks and not on
the sides of the tracks, like the Jack Rabbit. This allowed for
steeper drops on roller coasters. In fact, the first hill of the
Wildcat had to be altered two years later, according to Patrick
Duffy, who worked at the park in the 1930s and eventually became
part owner of the park.
The hill dropped at such a severe angle, "tThere were women passing
out on it, and kids just didn't ride it." The Jack Rabbit was also
converted to under-friction in 1930, and the Old Mill Chute was
modified and expanded, with a waterfall and windmill added.
By the time the park was sold in 1924, the owners realized that
Idora Park could not survive as a street car park. In 1926, the
Youngstown Municipal Railway abandoned its first street car line.
Fourteen years later, the last street car rolled through East
Youngstown, by then renamed Campbell in honor of James Campbell, the
founder and first president of Youngstown Sheet and Tube.
Idora Park survived the death of street car services because the
owners sufficiently changed the clientele: they decided the park
would appeal to the working-class men of the area and their families
by becoming a place for their company picnics. Indeed, when the
Idora Amusement Company bought Idora Park, Billings said, "Most of
the picnic dates have been taken for the entire season and numerous
excursions from Pennsylvania are already scheduled by the Pittsburgh
and Lake Erie railroad to the park."
In addition to its two roller coasters, various rides and games,
Idora had a dance hall. Originally constructed as an open-air dance
pavilion, the ballroom became enclosed (it could then be used
year-round) and drew many varied acts. Dances on Saturday nights
were always packed, and every big act played at Idora Park, since it
was a halfway stop between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. There was a
certain dress code for the ballroom as well, according to Drew
Deibel. "My grandfather never allowed anybody in the dance hall
without a coat and tie."
Idora Park was also home to a baseball team. The ballpark was built
in the 1910s, and hosted many exhibitions. In 1939, the Youngstown
Browns, a farm team for the St. Louis Browns, took the field for the
The Depression and World War II
The Depression did not stop people from coming out, and did not shut
down Idora Park. Dick Kutan remembered going to Idora Park in the
middle of the Great Depression with his family. His father worked
for Republic Rubber, one of many industrial plants in Youngstown.
"They, like any company of size or consequence in the [Mahoning]
Valley, would have a day at Idora Park," Kutan recalled. "The plant
would shut down and we'd all go to the park early." The trip to
Idora Park took the place of a vacation for many families during the
Depression, Kutan said.
By 1939, Idora Park had evolved into an amusement park with games,
rides and animals, as well as a year-round gathering place for
dances and other events in the Ballroom.
The Youngstown Browns finished in seventh place in the eight-team
Mid-Atlantic League in 1939, but the next year, they made the
playoffs, only to lose to the Akron Yankees.Then the Mid-Atlantic
League suspended operations during World War II--but Idora Park
continued strong. According to Mickey Rindin, a ticket-taker at the
Fun House during the war, there was not even a drop in Idora Park's
attendance. On the contrary, soldiers from Camp Reynolds near
Greenville, Pennsylvania, would go to Idora Park, as there was not
much else to do with leisure time during the war. Buses still ran to
Idora Park, although the Park and Falls street car line had been
abandoned in 1936.
Mickey Rindin's father, Max Rindin, was assistant manager of the
park at that time. Max Rindin had worked at the park for nearly 20
years in 1942. Mickey Rindin worked with Patrick Duffy, Jr., whose
father, Patrick, Sr., was connected with the park since 1905. "I was
underage, so was Patrick Duffy Jr.," Rindin said. "But it was during
the war, so who was going to complain?"
New Ownership at idora Park
In 1948, Max Rindin became general manager of the Idora Amusement
Company, and he owned the park with the elder Duffy and Tony
Cavalier, who previously owned the Elms Ballroom on the North Side
Around his time, the salt water swimming pool closed in 1948 in the
wake of several drownings. But many people, including Drew Deibel,
said the pool was closed to avoid being integrated. In its first
half-century, Idora Park was a white amusement park. Very few blacks
attended the park, and those who did usually didn't swim. In the
postwar era, as the Civil Rights movement began, blacks wanted to
swim in the pool, and rather than integrating the pool and risk
losing white business, the pool was shut down.
Rindin said that was not the case, that while Youngstown wasn't
greatly integrated, the reason for closing the pool was a financial
one. "The city pools, which were pretty crowded, were only charging
a nickel. We were charging a quarter. It was hard to compete."
In 1951, the baseball team left Idora Park. The Youngstown team, now
called the Colts, had resumed its spot in the Mid-Atlantic League in
1946. After five lackluster years, the team, by then called the
Athletics, left at the end of May 1951 for Oil City, Pennsylvania.
The team averaged 100 people a game, and losses for the five years
totaled nearly $50,000. A little more than two months later, the Oil
City Athletics folded. Mired in last place in the Mid-Atlantic
League, the team continued to lose money. With Oil City gone, the
Mid-Atlantic League was down to just five teams. Within a year, the
Mid-Atlantic League was no more.
By the end of the decade, more than half of the 158 minor leagues in
America would fold. More people would stay home, where they could
watch major league games on television for free in the comfort of
their own homes. Radio, the medium which had previously brought
baseball games into living rooms, had become instead the medium of
choice for a new form of music called rock and roll. Dick Kutan was
now broadcasting over the airwaves as Johnny Kay on WHOT-AM 1330.
Other disc jockeys for WHOT were doing various promotions and
activities at the Idora Park Ballroom. It was common for WHOT's
record hops held in the ballroom on Friday nights to draw 5,000
The 1950s also saw an event nationally which changed the way
amusement parks operated. Walt Disney, head of Disney studios,
opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California on July 17, 1955. The theme
park, as it was called, cost $10 million and spread five worlds
across 160 acres: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Tomorrowland,
Frontierland and Fantasyland. (Idora Park was only 25 acres.) What
it wasn't was a traditional amusement park. It didn't have thrill
rides, bumper cars, a tunnel of love, a Ferris wheel, or games of
chance. What it did have was "magic." In contrast, traditional
amusement parks seemed antiquated and dirty.
Over a million people visited Disneyland by the end of 1955,
allowing Disney to pay off $9 million of the $10 million park.
In the wake of Disneyland, many amusement parks added attractions
that were more family friendly. Idora Park was no exception. The
swimming pool had been filled in, and the circular span of concrete
now available was perfect for an enclosed KiddieLand, which was
installed. KiddieLand provided rides for children, like a miniature
roller coaster, which appealed to the Baby Boom
Turbulent Years at Idora Park
But while there were few changes within the park itself, there were
numerous changes in the neighborhood, city and nation around Idora
Park in the 1960s and 1970s.
The population shifted. The Boardman Plaza was built south of town
on U.S. Route 224 by Edward J. DeBartolo in 1951. With the
popularity of automobiles and the lack of parking in the downtown
business district, the suburbs became the place to shop. People were
also starting to move out of the city.
Public transportation also began to decline. The Youngstown
Municipal Railway had already ceased operations, and there was no
more Idora Bus Line after 1954. Idora Park had some parking but none
on the scale of the large theme parks which had started to develop,
such as Cedar Point in Sandusky, Geauga Lake in Aurora or Kennywood
Park outside of Pittsburgh. These three were able to survive the
changing times because they did not find themselves trapped on all
sides by a city, and had room to expand. Amusement parks like Geauga
Lake, Cedar Point and Kennywood also did not face the same problems
Idora Park and other urban amusement parks did with regards to crime
In 1966, Ted Terlesky, like his father Stephen, joined the
Youngstown Police Department, and, like his father, he started to
work security at Idora Park. He said in addition to typical
recreation area problems such as theft and assault, other problems
developed in the 1960s. "The use of marijuana became more
prevalent," Terlesky said. "Kids fighting, either with fists or with
weapons, came into play. Youth from all over the city started to
converge on the park. There were no guidelines regarding who could
come in. That was the onslaught of the problems."
Kutan recalled that rock and roll had grown, and it was
reflected at Idora Park. The Record Hops turned into "Hot Days" in
the early 1960s, promotional days which opened the season for Idora
Park. By the late 1960s, the "Hot Days" had become "Spring Things."
Though it still marked the beginning of the Idora Park season, the
atmosphere had changed, according to Kutan.
"It was a family type of affair in the 1960s," he said. "As it
evolved into the 'Spring Thing,' the drug culture became more
entrenched in rock music, and it ceased to be a family thing."
Alyssa Lenhoff was one of the youths who frequented Idora Park in
the 1970s. She was from Boardman and used to attend Idora Park on
"Hot 101 Days." (By then WHOT, like many other rock and roll
stations, was broadcasting on FM radio.) She has happy memories of
Idora Park, but hers are tempered by the fear of being on the South
Side of Youngstown after dark.
Lenhoff recounted an episode where some kids cut into line at the
Lost River (which is what the Old Mill Chute was called then) ahead
of her, her sister, and some of their friends. The kids who cut in
front of her were loud and a little intimidating, and her sister
decided to get into line in front of them and got an angry reaction
from the youths, one of whom urinated on her while they were on the
racial tensions which in the late 1960s exploded across the
nation were also present in Youngstown. "During that time, we as a
country started having racial problems," Dick Kutan said.
"Tragically, that affected the park."
Janie Jenkins, a reporter for the Vindicator who covered the annual
openings of Idora Park, was even more blunt about racial problems on
the South Side of Youngstown. "The character of Youngstown changed,"
she said. "There were many more black people, and Youngstown's
always been funny about that. You weren't sure you wanted to go
The Beginning of the End
Idora Park's customer base of industrial and ethnic picnics also
started to flag in the 1970s. The ethnic days at Idora Park began to
die out as other churches or social organizations sponsored their
own ethnic celebrations. However, the park was hardest hit by the
loss of industrial picnics.
On Monday, September 19, 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed its
Campbell Works. The day locally called "Black Monday" saw thousands
thrown out of work as the steel mills literally shut off in
mid-shift. The loss of the industrial jobs that made up the economic
base of Youngstown affected everyone, including the owners of Idora
"What signaled the end of the park was the industrial base
disappearing," Rindin said. "The big plants, the big union picnics
we would have...were closing up, and we couldn't depend on walk-in
business." Terlesky said on days of truly big events, like the
picnic for the local United Auto Workers, 15,000 people might come
through the park. However, he said on weekdays when no such events
were going on, Idora park was desolate.
"If there wasn't an industrial picnic or a promotion, you could roll
a bowling ball across the midway and not hit anyone," he said.
The Last Years of Idora Park
Idora Park enjoyed a brief renaissance of sorts in the late 1970s
and early 1980s. The carousel was named to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1975. The next year, Idora Park was named one of
the nation's 100 best amusement parks in Gary Kyriazi's book The
Great American Amusement Parks. In 1979, Idora Park's two roller
coasters were recognized by coaster enthusiasts as some of the best.
By then, the Jack Rabbit was the oldest roller coaster in Ohio, and
the second oldest in the nation, after the Leap the Dips at Lakemont
Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which was built in 1906.
Idora Park also saw a slight rise in attendance in 1979, as the fuel
crisis kept Youngstown families from journeying to Cedar Point,
Geauga Lake, Kings Island, or any of the other larger amusement
parks that were a significant distance away. The following year,
according to Rindin, was the best year in the park's history. School
and industrial picnics were booked beginning in May and well through
September. "We can't even close Labor Day," Rindin said. "We're
running picnics weekends after Labor Day!" But by the beginning of
the 1980s, Idora Park was a relic in its own time.
Many other small amusement parks built around the turn of the
century had closed. Some closed in the late 1960s because of the
decline of the urban area around them. Many others simply could not
compete with the large theme parks like King's Island, Geauga Lake
and Cedar Point. In 1982, the park was put up for sale with an
asking price of $1.5 million. There were no takers in 1982 or 1983,
and the Idora Amusement Company was getting ready for its 86th
season in 1984.
Mickey Rindin was at the park on April 26, 1984, making sure the
refreshment stands were ready to open with the park on Hot 101 Day,
which would be May 5. Rindin's wife was ill, and he tried to call
his Boardman home during his lunch hour, but didn't get an answer.
He was in the Ballroom working on various refrigeration units when
someone called him to the doorway.
"It had all happened in a couple minutes," Rindin recalled. "The
Wildcat was up in flames." A welding unit had dropped a spark on the
Lost River, and the wooden ride engulfed. The fire spread to the
roller coaster next to it. This was not the first fire in the park's
history, but none of the previous blazes matched this one in
severity. Realizing the madhouse that would ensue, Rindin returned
to his home in Boardman. He knew he needed to find someone to take
care of his wife. "I get in the house, the first thing they tell me
is, 'Did you know Idora's on fire?" Rindin recalled. "I hoped when I
looked back at the park I wouldn't see any smoke, and I saw lots of
Jenkins compared the scene to a funeral. "It was like watching
somebody die," she said. "A lot of people were standing around
talking and remembering. The firemen were keeping everybody away.
Pat Duffy was there and he was just sick at heart."
Rindin and Duffy sat at the picnic grounds and just watched firemen
try to keep the blaze from spreading. "Pat Duffy and I eventually
sat up in the picnic pavilion with our heads in our hands watching
our whole lives go up in smoke," Rindin said.
Once the fire was put out, the damage was tallied. One end of the
Wildcat was gone. The Lost River, and eleven game and concession
stands were destroyed, as was the office, taking the park's history
with it. The one bright spot in the wreckage was that the carousel,
through the diligent work of the firemen, had been saved.
Idora Park opened as scheduled for its 86th season but by the end of
the season a decision was reached: after Labor Day weekend, there
would be one more private picnic, and Idora Park would close. The
park had sustained $2.5 million in damages, and replacing the
Wildcat and Lost River would cost $3.5 million. Attendance was down
30 percent for the season.
The park's status before the fire was the subject of mystery. While
some people thought it was only a matter of time before the park
closed, there were others who thought the park could change its
identity again and survive.
Patrick Duffy was one of those people. Though he thought the
amusement park was hurt by the loss of the industrial base on which
it had thrived, he believed that with an upturn in the local
economy, Idora Park could rebound.
Ted Terlesky was another who believed Idora Park was at a
crossroads. If there hadn't been a fire, perhaps Idora could have
reinvented itself as an urban park for children in Youngstown who,
for whatever reason, could not make the trip to Cedar Point or
Geauga Lake. "They're the losers in this, because they have no place
locally they can go," he said.
There was an auction at Idora Park October 20-21. Mickey Rindin was
running a refreshment stand at the auction, which he said was very
crowded. Near the end of the auction, the auctioneers and the crowd
came over to the refreshment stand and started taking bids on the
equipment inside. The most poignant moment came with the auctioning
of the carousel. First, bids were taken on each individual horse.
Then, when each individual horse had a sale price, bids were taken
for the whole carousel. The opening bid was the sum of the price for
all the horses plus ten percent, which came to $385,000. A buyer was
found, and a great cry went up from the crowd because the horses
would stay together. "They didn't want it to leave one horse at a
time," Rindin said.
The Present and Future of Idora Park
Shortly after the auction, Dick Kutan took one last walk around the
park with Max Rindin. He asked Rindin what would happen to the
remains of the park. "In time," Rindin said, "It'll all be torched."
On May 3, 1986, Rindin's prediction came true. The Bumper Cars, Fun
House and Heidelberg Gardens were consumed by a fire. Arson was
suspected, but nobody has been charged or convicted of setting the
fire. While Rindin was alive to see the fire, and would live well
into his 90s, Patrick Duffy Jr., one of the other owners of the
park, was dead within four months after the park's closing, dying on
January 6, 1985 at the age of 57. "Pat Duffy died of a heart
attack...probably of a broken heart," Janie Jenkins said.
Ballroom remained open for various events until Memorial Day
1986. By then, the Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church bought the
property. The church lost the property in 1989 after accumulating
more than $500,000 in debt on the land. A group of preservationists
got Idora Park on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993
and put together a bid that year to buy the property and restore it,
but at the eleventh hour, the church got the property back for one
dollar and other considerations, namely a $300,000 mortgage.
Idora Park, different in so many respects from most other urban
amusement parks, has remained different even after its closing.
Today, the park sits there, crumbling. The Jack Rabbit is a lattice
work of rotting wood and peeling paint. Weeds poke up through the
sidewalk of the midway. Water damage is beginning to take its toll
on the Ballroom, and various concession stands are crumbling. The
tracks of the Wildcat stop in midair, like an amusement ride going
into eternity. The amusement park sits in its decaying grandeur,
like ruins from another time that hint at the previous greatness of
the city surrounding it.
The neighborhood around Idora Park has also declined. Glenwood
Avenue has been abandoned by many merchants. Gone are Parker's
Frozen Custard, JB's, the Crystal Lounge, Mr. Paul's Bakery and the
To Alyssa Lenhoff, the closing of the park was the death knell for
business on the South Side of Youngstown. The Fosterville
neighborhood, which surrounded Idora Park, was "the last enclave of
'okayness,'" Lenhoff said. Idora Park, and the other street car
parks across the country, played a large role in the development of
their respective cities, and of urban industrial America. Idora Park
was, and is, an urban relic from a bygone era when people rode
public transportation to amusement parks and shopped downtown,
before the proliferation of automobiles and interstate highways
allowed people to live, work and play in the suburbs. It recalls the
times when boys came out of high school, if they bothered to finish,
and got a job in steel mills or factories. They worked there for
thirty to forty years, and when they weren't working, they escaped
the rigors of blue-collar life by playing at local swimming pools or
amusement parks. The events at Idora Park could have happened
anywhere. Idora Park and urban street car parks in general serve as
a metaphor for America's rise and fall as an industrial power, and
they are casualties of America's economic rebirth after industrial
Vince Guerrieri is a copy editor for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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