Looking back on good times, troubled times at Gwynn Oak Park [Reisterstown]

  • The original merry-go-round used at Gwynn Oak Park was sold to a concessionaire who had it refurbished and moved it in 1981 to the National Mall where it resides today.
The original merry-go-round used at Gwynn Oak Park was sold… (Submitted photo )
June 17, 2013|By Sharon Rydell, sbrydell13@aol.comsbrydell13@aol.com

Do you remember Gwynn Oak Junction? Then you may have gone to the movies at what was the Ambassador Theatre, bought your groceries at Schreiber's, purchased your very first Halloween costume at Read's, spent your allowance at Ben Franklin, and gotten your hair styled at Dorothy's Beauty Parlor.

You surely then will remember Gwynn Oak Park, just short hop down Gwynn Oak Avenue, to the corner of Gwyndale, through which ran the Gwynn Falls Creek. Once you got past ticket booth with the nasty smiling-clown's face on it , you knew you were in for an afternoon of great fun — and perhaps a little adventure.

There were boat rides to be had, three roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, trolley car, and many other memorable rides and venues.

Nowhere was there a recognition of the underlying racial issue of segregation that had plagued the park for a decade. That is, of course, if you were a white child of the day.

This July 4 marks the 50th anniversary of the demonstration for integration that took place at the park. Police were stationed at the front of the park, anticipating the arrival of the protesters, who gained entry through the rear of the park, crossing a stream. Then Baltimore County Executive Spiro T. Agnewhad aligned himself with the park's owners, Arthur and David Price, in their quest to keep the park racially segregated.

On July 4, 1963, protesters were joined by Baltimore City clergy, among whom was Baltimore Hebrew Congregation's Rabbi Morris Lieberman; Dr. Marion Bascom, then pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church; the Rev. W. K. Dunn of then Notre Dame College; the Rev. Joseph Connelly of the Catholic Interracial Commission; Monsignor Austin Healy, representing the Archdiocese of Baltimore; Bishop Daniel Corrigan; and the Rev. Daisuke Kitagawa of the Episcopal Church's National Council staff. The demonstration also drew local chapters of the NAACP, along with members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), among whom was Michael Schwerner, at what was his first protest. Schwerner was murdered along with fellow CORE workers Andrew Goodman and James Chaney less than a year later by the Ku Klux Klan.

The outcome of the combined efforts of blacks and whites, Jews and Christians and the organizations that supported their efforts brought the Price brothers to announce the park's integration on Aug. 28, 1963; the very same day as the historic march on Washington, D.C. The park was Plagued with bankruptcy and the demise of the No. 32 streetcar, which carried patrons. But it was Hurricane Agnes, which caused the park to flood, that put the final nail in the coffin. Gwynn Oak Park closed in 1972.

While the rides were auctioned off in 1974, the much beloved merry-go-round survives today. It was purchased by a concessionaire who had it refurbished, and placed on the National Mall in 1981, where it remains today, renamed the Carousel on the Mall. .

Stepping up to the plate to chronicle what took place 50 years ago is longtime multimedia journalist for WMAR-TV Pete O'Neal and his wife, Beverly, in the making of the documentary "All the King's Horses: The Story of Gwynn Oak Park." In partnership with Pace McConkie, founder and Director of the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights Education at Morgan State University, the film premiered there on April 24with a second showing at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 26.

"Opening the Gates: Celebrating Gwynn Oak Amusement Park 50 Years Later" will take place on Sunday, July 7 from 1 to 7 p.m. at Gwynn Oak Park. Sponsored by Union Bethel African American Episcopal Church, it will honor those who struggled for civil rights with a service at which time an historical marker will be dedicated.

In two weeks time, ground is scheduled to be broken on the empty 18 acre site next door to Harry O. Shaneybrook Plumbing located at 144 Westminster Pike. This prime piece of property, owned by St. John Properties is slated for a 3-story office building, along with 14,000 square feet of retail space into which it is rumored that a Starbucks and an as yet unnamed restaurant will take up residence.

According to Glenn Barnes, president of the Reisterstown Improvement Association, this would be a very welcome addition to the area. Glenn feels that new development of this nature would seriously improve the "face" of the town, particularly as this is taking place at one of the entry points into Reisterstown.

The ink isn't dry, but negotiations are currently under way between the owners of Glyndon Square Shopping Center and Barrett's Grill-Hunt Valley to occupy the recently closed Mia Carolina Restaurant.

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