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Theme Park History: Cedar Point's near-death experience

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Published: October 27, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Today, Ohio's Cedar Point stands among the leading amusement parks in the world, with millions of visitors every year, legions of fans, and scores of awards. It's the anchor of a billion-dollar company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, and the self proclaimed “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” With all of Cedar Point's success, it seems almost strange to think that in another time, the highly popular Lake Erie resort was a breath away from closing forever.

Cedar Point

Cedar Point began life as a small bathhouse and beer garden over 140 years ago, in 1870, and grew steadily into a bustling resort by 1900. Behind the leadership of George Boeckling, a real estate tycoon with a knack for showmanship, the park grew astronomically for the next 30 years into one of the most successful amusement operations in the world. By 1931 though, Boeckling had died, and the Great Depression had begun taking its toll on the country. Cedar Point along with the rest of the industry was hit hard…first with the Depression, and then by the war and the supply rationing it brought. Without strong leadership, by the end of the 1940s the once great resort found itself in disrepair and the future coaster capital of the world tore down its last roller coaster because it didn’t have the money to fix it. The parent company that owned and operated the resort was all but broke. The early 1950s were a little kinder to Cedar Point. Although a measure of success returned, the finances were a mess and the company was ripe for a takeover.

In 1957, Cedar Point began attracting the attention of a real estate developer named George Roose, who sought to transform the area into a high end housing project. Taking advantage of the park’s tenuous financial position, Roose and his partners bought into the company and soon gained a majority stake. He left no secrets about his intentions to close Cedar Point, but the people were not too keen on this proposition. The public outcry throughout the state was loud, and it attracted the attention of the media and Ohio Governor Frank Lausche, who pledged to block residential development by condemning the property, purchasing the land and turning it into a state park. The state legislature developed an official plan for when the day came.

Roose and his business partner Emile Legros saw the writing on the wall, and were now faced with the real prospect of losing their investment. What they also saw was the early success that Disney was having in California. After a visit to Disneyland, the partners were convinced that the resort could be made into a viable operation and announced that Cedar Point would remain and be redeveloped into the “Disneyland of the Midwest”. The state subsequently scrapped its plans to purchase the site and left Roose and Legros to develop their park. After two years of planning, construction on the modern day Cedar Point began and the rest is history.

And there you have it. It seems Cedar Point fans in those days were just as dedicated as the modern day fans are. Also, in these days of government shutdown, it’s nice to recall an instance where things actually got done and good came of them.

Readers' Opinions

From Rob Pastor on October 27, 2013 at 4:17 PM
I lived within a 20 minute drive to Cedar Point in the early to mid 70's and visited the park quite often. Back then you could see a lot of similarities to Disneyland concepts. But over the years most of those attractions and areas were discarded and the park slowly evolved into primarily a coaster park. But it still remains a beautiful park due to it's scenic setting.
From Annette Forrest on October 27, 2013 at 8:07 PM
Boy, do I love this new series of articles. Keep them coming! I love learning this history. You should do a future article on Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland.

My nephew went to medical school at Case Western and in Cleveland anyone who is in their 50s and above goes on and on about Euclid Beach Park, some kind of special popcorn they had there, etc. That place was torn down and made into ugly condo buildings in the 60s and 70s. Just like what you said they wanted to do to Cedar Point. It appears that was a thing people did...turn amusement parks into residential for some reason. Not sure why.

All that is left of Euclid Beach Park is the entrance gates. We drove by there when we were up for my nephew's graduation and now there's a senior citizen building and public housing on the land that used to be the amusement park. Very sad.

Can't wait until the next awesome column. I am learning a lot!!! :)

From James Koehl on October 28, 2013 at 1:08 AM
Great article, Derek! I think that they have a map in the Town Hall Museum that shows the grid plan for streets on Cedar Point if the residential idea had happened. Personally I can't think of a worse place to live year round- imagine how bad the winter storms coming in off of Lake Erie would be for residents!
From 98.27.137.237 on October 28, 2013 at 9:13 AM
I've been going to Cedar Point ever since I moved to Ohio. I haven't missed in more than 25 years. I'm 66 now and I ride ever coaster in the park. It is an awesome place where I love taking my grandkids.
From Robert Niles on October 29, 2013 at 9:58 PM
So Cedar Point owes its existence to... Walt Disney? I think some coaster fans' heads just exploded. ;^) Great story.

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