All things considered, I believe after all the sequestering we have put ourselves through, distancing from each other, and all the non hugging, that Lakeside Amusement Park, right here in North Denver, is the place to step back into another time zone, drop all your cares, and even get over the Coronavirus blues. For newcomers to the neighborhood, Lakeside nestles itself into the smallest town just west of Sheridan Boulevard beneath the European tower at West 46th Avenue. Jefferson County got Lakeside in the early 1900’s because Berkeley Township did not allow for establishments that sold beer and liquor. So the original owners of Lakeside, including some German beer-garden types, moved their beer park to the (almost) smallest town in the state, Lakeside. Originally called White City, Lakeside became a gemstone amusement park with an original fat lady laughing uproariously at the old funhouse, a perfect merry-go-round, and the ferocious Cyclone roller coaster. Some of America’s most famous band leaders brought their musicians to the El Patio Ballroom just below the old roller coaster. My aunts and uncles reported that romance was always in the air at Lakeside because of the chance to learn the swell new dances at Lakeside. Alas, like many good things in our history, El Patio’s shade hovers like Banquo’s ghost just below the old roller coaster on the north side of the park.
Lakeside, population 8, is still a town, much to Wheat Ridge’s jealousy. They boast a mayor, city council, a police department, and a small jail. In the old days, if a fight ever broke out at Lakeside, the Lakeside police would tell the fighters to finish their bruhahas across Sheridan at Berkeley Park. The Lakeside police let the Denver Police handle the disturbance. Denver had bigger jails. Great intracity cooperation in keeping the peace in our neighborhood was in practice.
My family has a long and continuous relationship with Lakeside. My dad’s sister, Agnes Gallagher, worked in the ticket booth near the famous bumper cars. People lined up just to hear her crack jokes. Some said she should have gone into stand-up comedy. Her dad, my grandad, Bill Gallagher, a retired Rio Grande and Moffat railroad engineer, managed the big boiler at the large swimming pool, which is no longer there. I wonder if I owe Lakeside for all the free swims my grandfather got for me by bringing me to work with him?
The website for Lakeside announces that they are patiently waiting for a safe opening time for 2021. The website includes a link for an alert as to when the grand dame of amusement parks will open up. I have already signed up because I can’t wait to go.
And Lakeside is looking for lots of neighborhood teenagers seeking a first job. Many of my friends got their first jobs in North Denver at the very same park. You can apply on the website and questions about work are encouraged. Call 303-477-1621.
I hope you will make a point of visiting and enjoying Lakeside this summer. The only rides I do now at the North High Alumni Dinner night, even though I went to Holy Family, are the faithful merry-go-round and the trusty train. I bounce along in the old rail cars around beautiful Lake Rhoda, named by her father for Rhoda Krasner, his beautiful daughter and owner of Lakeside. The third generation of North Denver owners and managers now help out in running the park. Brenda Fishman, Rhoda’s wonderful daughter, helps her mom out in operating this historic business. I vividly remember feeding popcorn to the multitudes of carp in Lake Rhoda. Enterprising kids in the neighborhood caught the carp and brought them to local restaurants convincing restaurateurs that the fish were actually catfish. Would never happen today at any of the upscale eateries in LoHi and all around.
Perhaps the most memorable quality about Lakeside is not its affordable price to get in the gates, not the middle class price for a coveted wrist-tag which let you ride all the rides. The famous media ecologist Marshall McLuhan stated that the medium is the message and that is true of Lakeside, over 100 years old. What sets Lakeside apart from all other amusement parks in the nation is the “Welcome Home” attitude to guests and patrons. If you come to Lakeside with your picnic lunch with the kids, find a choice table on the grassy park near the merry-go-round, enjoy yourselves, bring a blanket, have your delicious homemade lunch, ride the exciting rides. No one will come along and rush you on your way. “Stay as long as you are enjoying this beautiful park” is the message of Lakeside after these 100 years. My kids’ fondest memories recall our fabulous picnics at Lakeside.
Support this wonderful historic gemstone in our neighborhood. Tell your friends and neighbors. Recommend someone to work there. Who knows, as you pull out of the cocoon of the pandemic you might find romance as you ride the old train through the tunnel on the east side of the lake. Who knows you might even get a kiss.
The Honorable Dennis Gallagher is a former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. He’ll be sharing thoughts and stories from North Denver’s past and future in his reoccuring column in The Denver North Star.