Youngstown’s Million Dollar Playground

(by Vince Guerrieri) 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 picnics there.

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 of Youngstown.

As street car lines died out in the late 1920s and 1930s, Idora Park forged 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 theaters.

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 and 1970s.

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 Youngstown.

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 construction fees.

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 parkís 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 stuck.

Wildcat PostcardBy 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.

The 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 this time. 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 first time.

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 of town.

Aroudnt 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 people.

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 generation.

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 and racism.

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.”

Dick 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 ride.

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 there.”

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 Park.

“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 smoke.”

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.

The 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.

AbandonmentIdora 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 Park Inn.

Old BathhouseTo 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 decline.

Vince Guerrieri is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at:

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Once upon a time, environmentalists lived in the forests, while the many of the rest of us moved the suburbs to be near the forests. Today we’re on our way back. Living near nature is an attractive notion, but many who tried it found nature soon vanished and they were left isolated. For both environmental and social reasons, living in the suburbs or the forest is not sustainable. Today we know cities are good for people and for forests. We know that the less land each of us occupies, the more space there will be for nature. In a city, we have a smaller footprint. Living in a city isn’t only good for the planet, it’s good for all of us. When home, work, shopping end entertainment are close, it encourages walking and promotes the active lifestyle that keeps us healthy. The New Colonist is about moving in from the suburbs, moving into and reclaiming towns and cities that have been depopulated, and building more housing in healthy cities. It’s about building smarter and closer-in new developments; building transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in new communities, and bringing more transportation options to communities where a car is presently the only option. Sustainable city living–chronicling the return from the suburban diaspora–is the focus of …Move In. City Life is good for you. It’s good for the your health. It’s good for the planet. Eric Miller Richard Risemberg