Life And Times At Jefferson Park
by Bob Severin
I used to live on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. I lived on West 129th Street. It was an area described as West Park. That was just a loose definition of a neighborhood. There were three city parks in our neighborhood.
One was Halloran Park, on West 117th street. Another was called Gunning Park, but it wasn't much of a park, and wasn't maintained very well by the city. The third park, and the subject of this effort was Jefferson Park.
Jefferson was probably the best park on the west side. It took up two city blocks from West 132nd to West 134th streets. Lorain Avenue was it’s northern border and Cooley Avenue was it’s southern border. The front of the park had beautiful and stately trees, lawns and asphalt pathways (commonly referred to as side-walks).
Just to the south of the pedestrian area, were eight tennis courts, fenced in with cyclone fencing, permanent netting and asphalt surfaces. At the end of the tennis court area there were two grassy areas bordered by tall hedges on either side of a central path. At the end of the path, there was a brick building containing two bathrooms and a drinking fountain. The building also contained equipment for maintaining the park. During times of rain or bad weather we kids could seek shelter in this place of refuge.
The back of the building was commonly used to rebound tennis balls for practice. The building was rather easy to scale, and you could usually find several errant tennis balls on the roof.
Behind the building, there were several pieces of park play apparatus. A large swing set, a“monkey bars” several teeter-totters, a set of parallel bars, a single giant bar, something that spun around with kid power, that you jumped on after pushing it to one hundred revolutions per minute, a sliding board and a climbing pole.
There was at least one, or perhaps two basketball courts, fenced in by cyclone fencing.
Throughout the park, in all areas were benches lining the walk-ways and the perimeter of the entire park.
Finally, behind the apparatus area was the open play yard. There were two baseball fields and grass everywhere.
This was a park for the people. This was a park for the kids. This was a park for fun. This was a park I lived in from dawn to dark, every day for every summer, for the better part of three years of my life. In the winter, the back part of the park would sometimes get flooded and a giant ice rink would be the end result. We kids maintained it, shoveling snow off to keep the surface nice and slick.
The park had no rules, no counselors, no police, no guards. It was a fun place, a safe place, a good place to while away summer days and nights when you were a kid. And, it was free. You could go there in the morning, stay all day into the night, and go home whenever you were due to be home.
As I grew into my teen years, I didn't go to Jefferson very much. Things changed, as they always do. The first thing I noticed was that all the hedges were cut down. Some people had seen kids kissing or doing what kids do that adults think they shouldnt be doing, so the protective hedges came down. Then the shelter house was demolished. Again, a concerned parent or adult had seen some kids on the roof collecting tennis balls, and this was deemed a hazard, so the brick house had to go. Then the water system used to flood the rear of the park was removed because you couldnt just have kids running around on ice skates unsupervised and doing things like“crack-the-whip" or playing unorganized and unsupervised hockey.
The park remains today, perhaps not as majestic as I remember it, but it is still and probably will remain a wonderful place to gather and to have fun, and serve the west side Cleveland community of West Park. Recent pictures available on the web show many children and families having fun at Jefferson Park.
Enjoy the photos of Jefferson in modern times. And, take a moment to think of all the good times spent by countless people during their time spent at Jefferson Park in decades past.
It is my good fortune to have these memories of my past connected to Jefferson today.