Looking back on a sad goodbye to Crystal Beach and a lasting memory

By Rich Tarrant

A jillion years ago – when I was young – I loved the fact that there was a soda pop factory in our town. When “they” burned it to the ground back in the 1950s – as the late great newsman Walter Cronkite might have put it – “I was there.” I was on the grassy knoll next to the tracks overlooking the factory with two of my older sisters and tearfully [only from the smoke of course] watched the place go up in smoke. We had a Kodak Brownie camera and took pictures. It was a day to be memorialized. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to those snapshots. So much for our “memorializing” things.

But no matter, back then my pre-teen brain rationalized, we still had our own amusement park to enjoy. That was Crystal Beach. And that, thought I, would never ever disappear. Well anyway, that is what I thought.

In 1906 a Lorain businessman named George H. Blanchat had purchased a picnic grove along Lake Erie just a few “klicks” east of Linwood Park from a fella named George Shadduck with the intention of stepping things up a notch (or two or three). It is said that during an initial inspection of the property with his wife, Josephine, she took up a handful of sand from the beach taking notice of its “crystal-like” qualities as it ran through her fingers and; on May 30, 1907 the “Crystal Beach” Park opened for business.

As the years passed, and business flourished, a merry-go-round, shooting gallery, ice cream parlor, boat rental and landing, bowling alley, a bigger refreshment facility, a prodigious water toboggan slide (from the cliff into the lake), and additional amusements and rides (e.g. a roller coaster – “the Thriller”) were added to the park.

The park was both vibrant and resilient. In 1925 the beautiful Crystal Garden Dance Hall opened at the front of the park (Currently the site of Key Bank). And during the years that followed crowds would come from miles around to spend a summer evening happily dancing to the music of Guy Lombardo, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Prima and Lawrence Welk – and many, many other big bands of the era. And when In April 1947 a great fire destroyed the pavilion / penny arcade / roller-skating rink on the lakefront, less than a month later a new one rose from its ashes.

Then, in October of 1962 it was announced that a group known as the Crystal Development Corporation of Vermilion had tentatively purchased the property. In mid-November 1962 the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram ran an article headlined: “Crystal Beach roller coaster takes last dip.” In short the coaster with 12 coaster cars, a four-room cottage, along with 20 frame buildings, the empty Dodgem house, rifle gallery and items from the Penny Arcade, ad infinitum, had been sold to the highest bidder at auction. Heading the company were three Vermilionites; James Fischer, E.L. Creel and G.B. Kimmick.  But by April of 1965 another local company, Klingshirn Builders that had built most of the homes in Vermilion’s Valley View subdivision, had acquired the property and 15 two-story garden-type apartment buildings were planned for the park site. The only buildings not sold on the-23 acre park site were the Blanchat home, the Crystal Gardens Dance Hall and the refreshment stand. All these structures were located at the front of the park on the north side of Liberty Avenue. Yet, before too long they too would be gone.

And poof! By 1967, when I returned from the War in Vietnam, everything was gone. This time there was no smoke in the air to explain watering eyes. But fortunately, the site of the park and the rides it contained, unlike the old beloved pop factory of a yesteryear, would not be completely forgot.

Several weeks ago Vermilionite Marlene Calvert Feldkamp visited the local history museum and told me that on September 22nd at 10 a.m. memorial plaques celebrating the park and several of the rides that once so thrilled thousands of visitors will be placed on several of the foundations / pylons that, believe it or not, still exist in the green areas of the Crystal Shores garden apartment complex. The plaques will include carefully etched photographs of the rides as well as their names (i.e. the Rocket Ship, Tumble Bug etc.). Marlene and her sister, Sandra Calvert Mueller, granddaughters of George Blanchat, will be in attendance during the dedication. And for a real treat the “Rocket Ship” car that many former visitors to the park might remember as having been a popular ride at the park, will also be there. So whether you are a Crystal Beach aficionado or not, reserve the date and prepare to be treated to one final (or perhaps your first) ride in the Rocket Ship from Vermilion’s very memorable “Crystal Beach” Park. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com

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