DPL Archives

DPL Archives: Check out these old photos of Lakeside

It’s been around since 1908 and, argued one scholar, is a reflection of Denver through the ages.

"Emotions rnging from elation to plain fear cross the faces of coaster passengers." July 1974.

"Emotions rnging from elation to plain fear cross the faces of coaster passengers." July 1974.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Howard Brock
KEVIN-lighter

We’re making our way through a massive collection of Rocky Mountain News photos that are now in the Denver Public Library’s archives. We polled our readers about which letter “A” subject file we should explore, and you voted for “Amusement Parks – Lakeside.” (If you want to get in on the next round of voting, sign up for our newsletter!)

A tilt-a-whirl at Lakeside, undated.

The Whip at Lakeside, undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

A thesis and a brief history:

In 2012, University of Colorado PhD candidate David Forsyth wrote a thesis on Lakeside, which is what we’re using for the bulk of our historic context. He later published a book on the park with all he’d learned in his research.

Plans for the park were revealed in 1907. The project was helmed by Denver brewer Adolph Zang (who also built the mansion named after him in Capitol Hill).

"Lakeside's pretty architecture," 1937.

"Lakeside's pretty architecture," 1937.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

Lakeside’s white columns and ornate tower were part of the larger “City Beautiful Movement,” which became very popular after Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. City leaders across the nation began investing in architectural projects and efforts to open new public spaces that drew from classic Greek and Roman designs. As Zang sought to create that vibe in Lakeside (which is in its own, separate town), Denver Mayor Robert Speer worked on his own City Beautiful vision for what would become Civic Center Park.

"The chutes at Lakeside – the white city." Undated.

"The chutes at Lakeside – the white city." Undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

Forsyth told us City Beautiful projects were generally exclusionary.

The stewards of New York City’s Central Park, for instance, used signs to keep people off grass and out of fountains that became ways to control who could use the space. Civic Center Park was an exception, he said, since Mayor Speer’s vision of City Beautiful was more inclusive. Zang’s park, however, was created in line with other projects of the day.

“Lakeside, when it started, was really the elite, upper-class amusement park,” Forsyth said.

Dining at Lakeside, undated.

Dining at Lakeside, undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

That faded over time, to a degree.

“When that image began to fail the park, new owners demonstrated their incredible ability to reimagine and reinvent the park, creating a typical working class amusement park that still managed to be a bit different,” he wrote in his thesis. “Once customers were inside the decent and respectable park, social roles were leveled out and up for grabs as people from all classes shared the same experiences.”

"Greased pole entrance. New fun house. Lakeside. Open today and tonight." Circa 1930.

"Greased pole entrance. New fun house. Lakeside. Open today and tonight." Circa 1930.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

But the extent of that multi-class melting pot was limited in Lakeside’s early days. While classes began to mix on thrill rides and in its swimming spots, Black customers remained barred from entering. Forsyth said Lakeside was closed to African-Americans from the day it opened, though that discrimination never officially extended to local Hispanic and immigrant residents. Black musicians were allowed to perform at the park but were forced to spend their off time somewhere else. This was also true of downtown, where Black artists were invited to perform in clubs but weren’t allowed to lodge in the heart of town.

"In the launch at Lakeside, children's day." Undated.

"In the launch at Lakeside, children's day." Undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

Race-based policies were very common in early 19th-century amusement parks, Forsyth told us, and were adopted by other classic Denver spots like Elitch Gardens. Manhattan Beach, a fun park at Sloan’s Lake, and Arlington Park, located at current-day Alamo Placita Park, were also likely segregated; though Forsyth doesn’t have hard proof of this, he has seen evidence that each typically opened exclusively to Black residents one day each season.

The majority of the Lakeside photos in DPL’s archive come from the 1930s and clearly show this segregation. There are very few images that depict people of color having fun on the rides, even in those that are more recent.

Forsyth said Lakeside’s ban on Black customers ended in the 1940s, when a lawsuit forced Elitch Gardens to change their policy. Lakeside soon followed suit.

"The big balloon 'the white city' rising at Lakeside." Undated.

"The big balloon 'the white city' rising at Lakeside." Undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

The park evolved as the area around it changed.

Some 5,000 amusement parks opened in the U.S. between 1895 and 1910. Five preceded Lakeside, but many closed over time.

“Only 100 of those parks still survived by 2008” nationwide, he wrote.

"On the big concert carousel at Lakeside." Oct. 1952.

"On the big concert carousel at Lakeside." This one is dated Oct. 1952, but some readers expressed doubt with that based on the clothing in the picture. Maybe it was an old west day?

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News

But Lakeside, he wrote, is “an amusement park that managed to survive every challenge thrown at it.”

Lakeside even survived two pandemics: first the 1918 flu and, more recently, COVID-19. Though it couldn’t open in 2020, the funnel cake and rides were ready for everybody in July 2021.

Correction: This story originally stated the Rocky Mountain News photo archive was rescued from a dumpster by a guy and his dog, Max. The “Max files” were actually images by Denver Post photographers.

"A concession street at Lakeside now open every day." Undated.

"A concession street at Lakeside now open every day." Undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Patrons diving from this tower do so at their own risk." Undated.

"Patrons diving from this tower do so at their own risk." Undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Lakeside Ballroom where dining is so popular this season." March 30, 1937.

"Lakeside Ballroom where dining is so popular this season." March 30, 1937.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"We use city water only. If it is good enough for you to drink it is good enough to swim in." Lakeside, 1937.

"We use city water only. If it is good enough for you to drink it is good enough to swim in." Lakeside, 1937.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"On the scooter at Lakeside." Circa 1935.

"On the scooter at Lakeside." Circa 1935.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
Swimming at Lakeside, undated.

Swimming at Lakeside, undated.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"On the big concert carousel at Lakeside." Oct. 1952.

"On the big concert carousel at Lakeside." Oct. 1952.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Casino porch, chutes and plaza at Lakeside." Circa 1913.

"Casino porch, chutes and plaza at Lakeside." Circa 1913.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Kids rolling into summer." June 21, 1992.

"Kids rolling into summer." June 21, 1992.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Miniature sports cars at Lakeside provide entertainment for all age groups. Here is Robert Wiley [of Jefferson County] and Miss Duane Busker [of Denver]." June 1959.

"Miniature sports cars at Lakeside provide entertainment for all age groups. Here is Robert Wiley [of Jefferson County] and Miss Duane Busker [of Denver]." June 1959.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"Herman McCoy, veteran employee of the Lakeside Amusement Park, plays these valves with the loving care and skill of a master musician. He is headquartered in the park's fun house." June 1958.

"Herman McCoy, veteran employee of the Lakeside Amusement Park, plays these valves with the loving care and skill of a master musician. He is headquartered in the park's fun house." June 1958.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Bob Talkin
"$100,000 satellite ride to put passengers in fun-filled orbit." May 1958.

"$100,000 satellite ride to put passengers in fun-filled orbit." May 1958.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News
"A brilliant whirl of light in perfect geometrical pattern is the shape the airplane ride assumes for the camera at night." June 1953.

"A brilliant whirl of light in perfect geometrical pattern is the shape the airplane ride assumes for the camera at night." June 1953.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Peery
"19 children from the Regional Residential Program for Deaf-Blind children in Colorado Springs" on Lakeside's carousel. May 1976.

"19 children from the Regional Residential Program for Deaf-Blind children in Colorado Springs" on Lakeside's carousel. May 1976.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/David L. Cornwell
"Duane Lubben, general manager of Lakeside Amusement Park, surveys the venerable Cyclone, still rolling strong in its 47th year. March 1987.

"Duane Lubben, general manager of Lakeside Amusement Park, surveys the venerable Cyclone, still rolling strong in its 47th year. March 1987.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/John Gordon
"Employees at Lakeside Amusement Park took a ride on the Cyclone during a break, before the crowds arrive." Aug. 9, 1990.

"Employees at Lakeside Amusement Park took a ride on the Cyclone during a break, before the crowds arrive." Aug. 9, 1990.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Dennis Schroeder

Want some more? Explore other DPL Archives stories.

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