Luna Park was an amusement park on Cleveland’s East Side constructed by Ingersoll Construction Co. of Pittsburgh and created by Fred Ingersoll. The park occupied a 35-acre triangular site which was located at Woodhill Road and Woodland Avenue. The architectural style of the park was a combination of Egyptian, Gothic, Italian Renaissance and Japanese. Construction for the park began in 1904. Ingersoll employed interior decorators that had previous experience working at either Coney Island or Atlantic City. Luna Park was officially opened on May 18, 1905, and was Euclid Beach Park’s biggest competitor in the early 1900s. One of the roller coasters in the park was the largest figure eight coaster in the world at the time, having a track of more than half a mile. In 1910, the park was sold to Matthew Bramley, an original Luna Park investor, who began installing new attractions that included a carousel, Ferris wheel, roller coasters, roller rink and dancing hall.
Although Luna Park was easily accessible by streetcar from the city’s East Side, it was not fully accessible to Clevelanders. To be sure, Blacks frequently visited the park, but they did so on unequal terms. Newspapers such as the Cleveland Gazette even refused to accept advertisements for Luna Park affairs due to the park’s color line and continued to editorialize against accepting these conditions. The Gazette referred to Tuesdays, which was the one day of the week that African Americans could attend the park, as “Jim Crow” days. African American patrons were also only allowed to use the roller rink on certain evenings when all other patrons had left. Both the dancing hall and skating rink posted signs alerting patrons where Black patrons could and could not be. Even on hot days the pool was closed to African Americans, which forced them to find other places for recreation and events. The Gazette repeatedly called out the park for making easy money on the Black population from “Jim Crow” days and urged Black readers to spend their money somewhere else.
Emancipation Day brought the subject of Luna Park’s discrimination to a head yearly when the event was held. The Cleveland Association of Colored Men, an organization of Black businessmen that sought to improve economic and social conditions for African Americans, sponsored an annual Emancipation Celebration picnic that was hosted by Luna Park. The Gazette criticized this choice of venue in an essentially segregated park. The issue culminated as the 1919 Emancipation Day event drew nearer. Under pressure from the Gazette and many in the Black community, the Cleveland Association of Colored Men decided to move the picnic to Puritas Springs Park, located in the Rocky River valley. Around 15,000 people were said to have attended the event. Even after the success of the event at Puritas Springs, however, the Emancipation Day was moved back to Luna Park the following year. This demonstrated how hard it was to maintain a consistent pressure against Jim Crow.
Luna Park attracted many visitors in its heyday, but both revenue and attendance started to decline at the start of Prohibition. The park made a considerable amount of income due to the selling of beer on the property, and now the source of income was dried up. After this, Luna Park continued to fall in attendance and its appearance until 1931 when it was demolished except for the roller rink and baseball stadium. After the amusement park’s decline, African Americans gained freer access to Luna Park as whites began to abandon it. Black baseball teams like the Cleveland Oaks and 83rd Street Athletics regularly used the park in its altered form. By 1937, the Cedar Branch YMCA worked out an agreement with Bramley to secure its regular use for a range of sporting events. In the mid-1930s the roller rink in the park was advertised in the Call & Post, suggesting that there was no longer a color bar.
As Luna Park fell on hard times, whites abandoned the space, and on December 12, 1938, the roller rink burned down. Two years later, after bulldozers cleared the remaining rubble of onetime Luna Park attractions, the Woodhill Homes public housing project opened.
- “Are We a Race of Cowards?” Cleveland Gazette. December 12, 1914.
- “Boydston Post Wins at Donkey Base Ball.” Call & Post. June 23, 1934.
- “Do Not Go to Luna Park, August 1.” Cleveland Gazette. July 20, 1912.
- “The Emancipation Celebration.” Cleveland Gazette. August 23, 1919.
- “Luna Park.” Cleveland Historical. clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/259.
- “Luna Park Again.” Cleveland Gazette. June 27, 1914.
- “Luna Park and ‘Jimcrow’ Negroes.” Cleveland Gazette. July 13, 1912.
- “‘Luna Park Tom.'” Cleveland Gazette. August 5, 1922.
- “Mayor Makes Opening Speech. Speaks to Cleveland Association of Colored Men at Luna Monday.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. July 26, 1910.
- “Note Emancipation Day.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. August 1, 1926.
- “Oaks Play at Luna Park.” Call & Post. June 9, 1934.
- “The Rounder on What’s Doing.” Cleveland Gazette. February 1, 1936.
- Temple, Ken. “Former Cleveland Athlete Recalls Early Days in Sports.” Call & Post. January 30, 1965.
- “‘Y’ Completes Plans for Base Ball Team This Summer.” Call & Post. June 3, 1937.