Luna Park was possibly the largest recreational attraction in Charleston in the early 1900’s. Constructed in 1912, J. B. Crowley built Luna Park on the north bank of the Kanawha River in Charleston. Luna Park featured a swimming pool, Merry-Go-Round, a midway with games of skill and chance, rollercoaster, dance pavilion, zoo, and boxing ring. Special entertainment was offered occasionally, such as hot air balloon rides, free outdoor movies and trapeze artists. Admission to the park was fifteen cents and a ride on the Royal Giant Dips rollercoaster cost a dime. Families came from distances far and near for picnics and relaxation.
The park saw crowds of over 15,000 on some days. Local residents made their way to Luna Park on foot, or by trolley. By 1913, streetcars deposited 1,200 passengers each hour at Luna Park’s entrances. Others arrived by way of excursion boats from Gallipolis and Point Pleasant. Some arrived by steamboat.
Prior to the park being built, the area was known as Glenwood Park. The amusement park occupied seven acres on what had been a three-hole golf course. At present, the park’s site is bordered by the river, Park and Glenwood avenues, Park Drive, and Grant Street. The main entrance to Luna Park was on Park Avenue, and the park was bounded by Park and Glenwood Avenues, Park Street, Grant Street and the Kanawha River. Although the majority of the surrounding West Side is laid out in rectangular plots, the curvy streets followed the former walking paths of Luna Park.
The Luna Park community pool was 45 feet wide by 100 feet long and held approximately 200,000 gallons of water. Not made of concrete, rather the pool was constructed of lumber and tin sheet. The shallow end was 3 feet deep extending to 8 feet at the deepest point. The city supplied the water, which was chlorinated in an effort to combat the spread of Typhoid.
On May 4, 1923, the pool house was being repaired when a workman started a fire with a blowtorch. The flames quickly spread to the skating rink, through the dance pavilion, and then engulfed the wooden rollercoaster. During the fire, ammunition stored in the shooting gallery discharged, causing people for blocks around to take cover. Firefighters found the rollercoaster nearly impossible to extinguish. By the time the fire was under control, Luna Park lay in ruins.
Although the original goal was to rebuild the park, the damage proved to be too extensive. Marketing materials touted the area as “Charleston’s new beauty spot,” by the Luna Park Land Company. Luna Park was said to be “no longer an amusement resort, but a beautifully plotted subdivision of 95 ideally located home sites.”
The site was cleared and the subdivision was platted by the Luna Park Land Company, with new streets laid out, including Simms and Hall Streets, Park Avenue and Park Drive. The new subdivision had building controls and restrictions, including a racial restriction. Common practice in many areas, racial restrictions were abandoned with the passage of the equal housing provisions of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
The 95 lots covering the Luna Park land gave rise to the area that would eventually be designated as the Luna Park Historic District. On April 3, 2012, the National Park Service designated 40 acres of the West Side as the Luna Park Historical District. It encompasses 444 buildings of historical value in a predominantly residential section of Charleston. The majority of the homes in the district were constructed in the mid to late 1925s and early 1930s. A large portion of the district was the land occupied by the local amusement park. The houses reflect a variety of popular architectural styles of the time, including American Foursquare, Craftsman Bungalow, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival. Among these homes there is a small collection designed by John C. Norman, West Virginia’s first black AIA registered architect.
Seeing thousands upon thousands of visitors annually for over a decade, Luna Park was Charleston’s major recreation destination. Now it is a mere memory for a dwindling few.
Next month, Looking Back visits Charleston’s Mason College of Music and Fine Arts.