By Denis LeDuc
School is out. The kids settle into summer. In the city the air shimmers above the hot pavement. The soft breezes of Lake St. Clair are calling with cool promise.
Families pack the swimsuits, the picnic basket and head to the park. What could be better for summer fun than an amusement park right next to the beach?
Built in 1927 on Jefferson just north of Nine Mile, Jefferson Beach Amusement Park boasted the world’s longest roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, carousel, arcade, and dance pavilion. People swam at night on the lighted beach. It was an overnight sensation, drawing thousands to the shore.
Mention Jefferson Beach to anyone of a certain age and the memory immediately elicits a story. “I loved the big wooden roller coaster and the great fries with malt vinegar and salt,” recounts Charline Kitchens Ahlgreen. “The merry-go-round used to make me dizzy and we would listen to the music from it and the screaming people on the roller coaster as we settled down to sleep on summer evenings.”
Bonnie Heacox loved the park’s natural beauty. “The park was really pretty,” she said. “The entrance had flowers and all bright colors of flags on both sides of the walk in. The picnic area had swings and slides and deep, light sand. Once, I made a record at this one booth for my dad (who was) in the Army.”
Take a good, close look at the young couple above posing in front of the entrance to Jefferson Beach. The young lady’s hair is pulled back and she wears a nautical style dress with a belted drop waist very popular in the late 1920s. She wears stockings and heels – to the beach! Yet she is a “modern” woman. She has escaped the somber colors and long, heavy skits of her mother and grandmother. Her dress is loose, comfortable and cool. Perfect to dance to the hot jazz music of the age.
The lady’s dapper gent is sporting a baggy suite from the era and a straw summer hat. In fact, all four men in the photo wear hats. Look for the boy in the backseat of the touring car with is spoke wheels and soft top.
Sadly, Jefferson Beach was destroyed by fire in 1955. The remaining buildings were town down in 1959 to make room for what is now Jefferson Beach Marina.