Lakeside Amusement Park

The current Tempe Town Lake was not the first time that Tempe attempted to create a lake. Due to the combination of an arid dry desert with little access to water, the first lake was unsuccessful and has largely been forgotten.

The first news of the Lakeside Amusement Park was noted on July 12th, 1949, where the man-made pond, located on the north side of the Salt River and east of the highway bridge, was just being planned to be the beginning of what would become said amusement park. Harold Freeman, who undertook the major developments and creation of the park, announced that the pond was covering nearly 10 acres, and would be expanded to more than 23 acres west, near the bridge and could be utilized for boating and recreational purposes. He added that the expanded pond and park would add shade, landscaping, and concessions, among other things that would make for an economical and socially successful amusement park.

Exact details of the park, which had been formerly promised, never came to fruition, and former City Councilmember Joe Spracale, who was raised near Beach Park, had recalled that Eddie Smith quit as manager of the park pool to help build the new lake. He was convinced that Smith utilized the well water that was normally used to keep the pool water fresh was ultimately used to create the new, expanded lake. Within three months, the new lake was more than 10 acres large and was around six feet in depth; Freeland envisioned a larger lake to support speed boat races but there was a greater problem on the horizon.

In the beginning of fall in 1949, Freeland had announced that Lakeside Amusement Park was ready for public use, and that there would be plenty of activities around Tempe’s man-made lake throughout the weekend including demonstrations of outboard motors, motorboat rides, and fishing of more than 10,000 bass, bluegill, and perch that were reported to be growing and ready in the lake. Major promotions for the lake were being posted around the area such as “Let’s all go boating,” “Major Boat Rental,” “Aquaplane Rides,” “Speedboat Rides,” among many other ways to draw locals and vacationers into visiting the new amusement park.

The expectations and anticipations for a full and complete amusement park were totally abandoned before 1950, and the term ‘amusement’ was dropped from the name altogether. In the meantime, the lake was to be continued in its expansion well into the spring. The winds of advertising shifted rapidly and it soon focused, by April of 1950, on speedboat racing almost exclusively; the first races were held on April 30th, 1950 near the Tempe Bridge in the artificial lagoon. The promoter of the event, Jack Grosjean, anticipated 50-75 entries from California, Texas, and Arizona, for a course that was a mile in circumference for the racers; to spark the afternoon events, waterski and surfboard events would highlight the afternoon.

It was reported, the day after the event, that around 3,000-4,000 people attended the Sunday event, witnessing the Power Boat Regatta, sponsored by the Arizona Navy at Lakeside Park; less than half of those patrons were actual paying patrons, mostly due to the fact that children were admitted to the event for free. There were no major incidents associated with either the races or the event in general, although the traffic issues associated with congestion of the event led to one individual being hospitalized due to a car accident, according to the Tempe police, though this is not directly associated with the event itself.

Despite the lack of social amusement at the park and lake, ads would run daily for months throughout 1950, primarily aimed at fisherman, proclaiming that the ‘Fish Are Bitin’ At Lakeside Park’. How the lake in itself was created is still a matter of great historical conjecture, primarily because it is under debate if it was further excavated following the quarrying that occurred on Tempe Butte and within the river channel. Towards the end of the summer, most of the ads and the articles of the lake dissipated as fast as the crowds did, and the lake’s popularity was as short-lived as the popularity of the speedboat races.

It was quite simple to point out the flaws of the lake’s inability to hold the water it needed to be successful, and ultimately the climate and geological factors limited the lake’s ability to hold the water necessary for Lakeside Park to maintain its lake status and live up to its potential memories. Clay was utilized at the bottom to stop the seepage of the water within the lake, but it was not enough to completely stop the drainage of the lake, but it was a point of contention to fight for the success of the project. By the end of the major advertising of the lake, the directions became unclear as to where to get to the lake, and the directions as they existed were bleak and led to an even more unclear picture of what vacationers and locals could expect upon arrival, ultimately leading to its demise.