Last week, we learned about the city building a house for the park’s superintendent right in the midst of the park itself, and the controversy surrounding that building. This week, we will learn about more of the park’s attributes, concessions and attractions.
During Balzer’s early years as superintendent, rapid changes took place in Manito Park attracting visitors by the thousands. People dressed in their Sunday attire, packed a picnic basket and gathered up the children to spend a day at the park. Beautiful flower gardens and floral sculptures adorned the park, and a growing zoo captured the attention of the young and old alike. B. J. Weeks and the Balzers each had a concession stand with the usual popcorn, ice cream and soda pop, candy, peanuts – and lots of cigars! (After the park department took over the concessions in 1910, it spent an average of $50 a month, during the summer, on cigars that sold for a nickel each.) Regular weekend band concerts and baseball games entertained the picnickers. Money was tight, but Charles Balzer crafted swing sets and other playground equipment out of old power poles, which kept the children happy. My 1913 men enjoyed lawn bowling on the new bowling green. Tennis was so popular that in 1912 a second set of tennis courts were added to the park near the softball field (the first courts, at 17th and Grand, were built in 1908). When the sun set, there were open-air motion pictures projected onto a thin sheeting (to be seen from either side) and dancing at the pavilion, situated along the southern shore of Mirror Lake. The lake cooled many swimmers on hot days. On the 4th of July, fireworks displays attracted even larger crowds. In 1912 John Duncan reported to the park board, “A conservative estimate of the number of people there [on July 4th] would be from 15,000 to 20,000….” Even on a quiet day, Manito Park was a popular destination to get away from it all and enjoy nature’s beauty.