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Published: Tuesday, 12/16/2008

Part 4: Hayes' Willow Beach becomes the place to be

BY KENNETH R. DICKSON
AUTHOR OF SOMETHING FOR NOTHING

Part four of 14

Located just north of the Casino in Point Place, Willow Beach was nestled along the tree lined shallow bay adjacent to Summit Street. During the long hot summers, Toledoans relaxed in the tree lined grove and refreshed themselves in the cool waters of the Maumee Bay.

Although the Casino was twice destroyed by fire, Jimmy Hayes recalled the popularity of the Point's Casino and the profitability of his gambling houses in the resort community.

Within weeks Hayes had formulated a plan, gathered together partners to cover the risk, and quietly began assembling the required Willow Beach real estate for his next gambling venture.

Riding the crest of the exceptional economic times that raged through the country in 1928, Willow Beach was created by Hayes and several Toledoans who had more on their minds than the formation of an amusement park.

Hayes gathered around him like minded men who were able to visualize the Beach's possibilities. Betting on the future of Willow Beach were attorneys and owners of the Toledo Mud Hens, John B. McMahon and Oscar Smith; and fellow gamblers Benjamin and Joe Fretti of the Acme Sales Company.

With amusement rides for the kids, coupled with entertainment, dining, alcohol, and gambling for their parents, Willow Beach was going to have it all. Although the Beach was located minutes from downtown Toledo, the partners had created an exceptional family entertainment destination just a short car or train ride from half the population of the United States.

Amid an expansive advertisement campaign, Willow Beach's opening was set for Friday, June 21, 1929.

For just a 25-cent ticket you could park your car and enter Willow Beach, northwestern Ohio's newest amusement park. Located at the entrance to Point Place, just a short walk from the old Casino grounds, the twin lighthouses of Willow Beach welcomed guests to the tree lined amusement park.

Advertised as a half a million dollar project, the opening weekend offered music by Bill Davallo's Call of the North orchestra for the patron's listening and dancing enjoyment. The dance pavilion was decorated in shades of green and white with decorations rumored to have cost over $2,200 dollars alone.

Willow Beach offered for amusement the Bug, Laugh in the Dark, Scooter, Parachute Drop, Bumper Cars, and the Seaplane Twirl. The only ride that wasn't ready for opening day was the roller coaster nicknamed the Thriller.

At roughly the same time, both Willow Beach and Cedar Point had ordered a roller coaster from the same manufacturer. With both parks clamoring for their roller coaster on opening day, a coin was tossed, and the Thriller renamed the Blue Streak was delivered to Cedar Point Amusement Park.

Willow Beach's coaster was installed several weeks later, and became one of the parks most popular rides. The Overland Club, Jack Dempsey's training facility for the 1919 Championship Fight, was sold and moved to Willow Beach where it was used as a restaurant called the German Village.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Willow Beach - with its bath house that could accommodate 2,500 bathers and beaches open until midnight; its aquaplanes to fly passengers to the Toledo harbor light and back, and its 1,600-foot breakwater to protect the dance pavillion - did not last long.

A disastrous fire swept the park in 1932 and while rebuilding was attempted, Willow Beach went downhill in the years that followed. Gambling there continued until 1937 when the area was annexed into Toledo. In 1947, the final blow came to Willow Beach after an East Toledo girl was killed in a fall from the roller coaster.

The facilities eventually were torn down and the city took over the property, transforming it into a public boat launch named after Ed Cullen, a prominent North Toledo resident.



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