In 1893 Kalamazoo’s horse-drawn street railway system was converted to electric power. Looking to expand evening and weekend trade, the Citizens Street Railway Company extended its Asylum Avenue line two-and-one-half miles to the southwest along the old Asylum road (now Oakland Drive) and established a leisure resort on the shores of Woods Lake (then known as Wood’s Lake after early settler, Smith Wood).
Lake View Park (1893 - 1897)
Opened as Wood’s Lake Park on 28 June 1893 and shortly thereafter renamed Lake View, patrons enjoyed a variety of entertainments typical of the era, including band concerts, a merry-go-round, balloon ascensions, baseball games, boating, dancing and picnicking along the cool wooded shoreline.
Lake View Summer Theater (1898 - 1903)
By the turn of the twentieth century, summer theater had become a key attraction at Lake View Park, thanks largely to the shrewd management of the Mittenthal Brothers. The Lake View Casino, located at the east end of Woods Lake (where the city beach is today), was an open sided theater with professionally made stage scenery and permanent seats for more than a thousand on the hill directly behind, forming a natural amphitheater. Checkrooms and dressing rooms were provided, including a spot where fashionable bicycle-riding patrons could check their “wheels.”
Shows at the Casino consistently received rave reviews and drew sizable crowds for each performance. Attendance of nearly a thousand or more was common, and Sam Mittenthal was often complimented for the quality of his shows and the manner in which he conducted affairs at the park.
Casino Park (1904 - 1906)
Between 1904 and 1906, the park became known as Casino Park and was managed by two prominent local musicians, Ted Daken and Banks Baird. Vaudeville, light opera and burlesque dominated the bill, with occasional musical attractions (ragtime being all the rage), minstrel shows, and flickering films from Thomas Edison’s new gadget called the Kinetoscope. Kalamazoo audiences saw many historic cinematic firsts at Casino Park, including films like Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery and scenes of the devastating San Francisco earthquake.
Oakwood Park (1907-1924)
In 1906 the Michigan United Railways (MUR) conglomerate assumed ownership of Kalamazoo’s street railway company (Michigan Traction Co.), and Casino Park was closed. In its place, a larger, more modern and versatile park was established at the opposite end of Woods Lake along the southwestern shore.
Oakwood Park was first opened to the public on Saturday, 29 June 1907, and featured a new dance hall, a new band stand, a nickelodeon theater and a boat house, along with its premiere attraction - the “Dizzy Figure-8” roller coaster. Balloon ascensions and band concerts were frequent attractions, with Chautauqua assemblies and specialty entertainment providing hours of summertime activity, usually for the mere cost of a trolley ride.