Central Park


Transcribed from the Allentown Morning Call


The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., May 16, 1932


$50,000 Fire Destroys Theatre, Mystic Castle in Central Park; Ye Olde Mill Is Badly Damaged


Firemen Handicapped by Long Stretches of Hose That Must Be Laid – Do Excellent Work in Saving Other Structures – Five Concessionaire Booths in Ashes – General Alarm Sounded to Bring Needed Hose in Hurry.  Breezeless Morning Great Aid in Staying Spread of Flames


Quick action by firemen, despite many handicaps, together with a morning without a breeze probably prevented the destruction of Central Park at 5:45 o’clock, Sunday morning when fire, starting in the Mystic Castle spread to the Park Theatre, leveled this structure, five minor concessions and Ye Olde Mill, one of the most popular rides for romantically inclined in the park.  The damage has been estimated at $50,000.  The origin of the fire is not known.


Elmer Heil, who operated the ball game to the rear of the theatre in the park and sleeping in the Mystic Castle, was aroused by a crackle of flames and smoke.  A few minutes previous the watchman of the park, Ellis Owens, of Slatington, punched the time clock at the theatre, almost adjacent to the Mystic Castle, in which the fire originated.  He found everything well.  He was just coming toward the erstwhile Temple of Fun when he saw Mr. Heil running out and shouting that the building was afire.


An alarm was turned in from Box 453, Hanover avenue and Tacoma street, just to the west of the park.  It was sounded by a salesman for the Freeman Dairy company who saw smoke issuing from the park as he was serving his customers.  This alarm brought district companies to the scene but service plugs were so distant from the scene of the fire that Chief Wolf ordered a general alarm to bring other companies to the park to assure proper hose facilities.


Five lines were built and the shortest of these had twenty-two sections, or 1100 feet of hose.  In fewer words, the five lines –placed to fight the rapidly rising fire carried more than a mile of hose.  The tediousness of this task of the firemen sufficiently to permit the Mystic Temple to become a veritable inferno.


A thirty foot strip separated the Mystic Castle , of wooden construction, from the Park theatre, for almost two score of years an important Mecca in theatrical history of the Lehigh Valley.


Flames leaping from the Mystic Castle licked the stage structure of the theatre, also of frame construction.  Just a shell of seasoned wood this proved tinder for the initial fire and its fire quickly spread over the building which had twenty dressing rooms, a roof which covered an outdoor auditorium sitting 1500.  The stage, one of the largest outdoor theatrical projects in this section of the state, together with the dressing rooms were easy prey to the flames and soon the roof over the outdoor auditorium was enveloped, burned to a crisp and collapsed.  Then firemen devoted their attention to saving the dance pavilion which for the past quarter century has been operated by E. J. Ferry.


They succeeded in saving this structure but flying timbers brought the fire to the Olde Mill.  Before this could be checked all but the front of this building was wrecked and the time-known wind-mill on top of the plant was scorched before the path of the fire was halted.  Many beautiful trees were bared of their foliage by the flames and heat.


Coming at the dawn of Sunday, the first half hour of the fire found the firemen without much help, but after the general alarm was sounded many hurried to the amusement place.  So intense were the flames that safety zones were established on order of Joseph Geisinger commissioner of the department of public safety, and crowd were kept well beyond this line by the fire police.


Also in the path of the fire was the shooting gallery, the barbecue stand, the fishing pond, the milk shake stand, and the roll ball game.  These, too, are total losses.


Early on the scene were officials who govern the management of the park for the Central Park Amusement company, a subsidiary of the Lehigh Valley Transit Company.  Frank A. Burkhardt, manager of the park; H. F. Dicke, vice-president of the company; C. W. Weiss, supervisor of the park, and C. A. Graham, assistant manager, were called from their homes.  When it became evident that the fire was under control these officials immediately organized forces for the cleaning up of the wreckage.


By nine o’clock in the morning, all but one plug stream was relieved from the blaze and then a force of a hundred workmen of the Transit company was put to the task of eliminating any dangers that might exist through the fire. 


News of the fire spread rapidly and through the day, the park, which was opened for the season a week ago, was witnessed by thousands. 


Mr. Dicke and Mr. Burkhardt, after a survey of the loss last night said that plans would immediately be created for the construction of new amusements on the sites affected by the fire.


Since recent years have found patronage in outdoor theatres almost nil it is doubtful another theatre will be erected.  However, it is certain that many new attractions will occupy the spaces that were made vacant by the fire.


To lovers of the theatre the loss of this portion of the park will be keenly felt by thousands in the Lehigh Valley.  The park was opened in 1894 and a year later the first stage was built.  It was here that the famous stars of minstrelsy appeared during the summer months after the regular theatrical season concluded.  Lew Simmons, Al. G. Fields, Primrose and Wilson and host of other names famous in American theatrical history were among the thespians who tread the boards of the first theatre.


Then along about 1906, after the Transit company felt that the spot so ideally located between Allentown and Bethlehem and in a continuously growing center of population, could be further developed.  George H. Hardner was given a contract to erect the structure which was destroyed yesterday.  There followed then for several seasons a series of variety engagements and in 1912 Lew Morton came to Allentown to stage musical comedies.  The energetic Morton with a repertoire company offered most of the Gilbert and Sullivan shows, together with hits which had just come from Broadway.  Lew Morton brought to Allentown capable companies and several best-known Allentown families found their sons wedded to these actresses and today they still look back fondly to the days of their courtship.


Musical comedy, however, fell into disfavor; for a season or two vaudeville was resorted to.  Pictures were also tried but William D. Fitzgerald, then manager of the Lyric theatre, took over management of the [park] theatre.  He again put in musical comedy and his companies were successful until the conclusion of the war.  Two seasons found the theatre dead and Lew Morton, in 1924, came back to Allentown to re-establish a company.  A season of rainy weather caused financial loss and the company completed the season on commonwealth plan in the Lyric theatre, with John D. O’Rear, now a Wilmer and Vincent manager in Reading, as the manager.


Mr. Burkhardt said last night the fire would not hamper park plans for the season.  With the exception of the theatre, the Mystic Castle, the Old Mill and the five other concession stands, there had been no damage.  All of the other concessions were in operation yesterday.  The loss is fully covered by insurance.

The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., September 15, 1935


Central Park Cyclone Coaster Destroyed by Fire; Loss $50,000


Several Other Concessions Also Destroyed by Blaze Which Raged Three Hours – Firemen Did Efficient Work in Saving Other Buildings


A calm night and efficient work by the Allentown fire department saved many Central Park amusements and concessions from almost certain destruction yesterday when a spectacular early morning fire razed buildings in the southern end of the park overlooking the Lehigh river.


The flames consumed the greater part of the Cyclone ride, completely destroyed the Skee-ball bowling alleys and the ladies’ rest room, and badly damaged the balloon game concession and another stand.


While the fire was still raging officials of the park said they expe3cted the loss would approximate $50,000.  The Cyclone ride, they said, was valued at $40,000.  The loss was covered by insurance.


Flames were discovered shooting from the rear of the Skee-ball alley a few minutes after 4 o’clock yesterday morning when James Smith, park watchman, began his hourly rounds.  At 4:05 o’clock he telephoned a still alarm to the Allentown fire department and almost simultaneously two Bethlehem cruiser car officers saw the flames and turned in an alarm from Box 535 at Hanover avenue and Club avenue.


District firemen and volunteers were faced with the problem of low water pressure and the lack of fire hydrants.  Hose lines were laid 1800 feet from two hydrants on Hanover avenue to reach the fire.  The length of the hose lines and the altitude of the park at that section combined to decrease water pressure.


The firemen battled for three hours and, in spite of their handicaps, were able to save nearby frame buildings from destruction. 


The nearest building to the fire ravaged area was the photographic studio. 100 feet away from the Skee-ball alleys.  Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Fegley and their daughter, who were asleep in the building at the time the fire was discovered, were aroused by the watchman and they removed their personal effects and photographic equipment to the merry-go-round shelter.  The western part of the structure was scorched, but damage to it was negligible. 


During the height of the blaze flames shot high into the air and were visible even in the central and western parts of Allentown and in many sections in Bethlehem.  Hundreds of persons seeing the flames hurried to the park.  Cars were parked blocks along Hanover avenue and West Broad street.


Chief Edgar Wolf, Assistant Chiefs Marcks and Stoneback and Councilman Joseph M. Geisinger, director of the department of public safety, directed the work of the firemen.  The squad wagon, Rittersville, Hibernia, East Allentown and Allen companies answered the alarm.


F. A. Burkhardt, manager of the park, said yesterday that the park would be open for business as usual today.

The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., June 11, 1940


Fire at Central Park Destroys ‘Dodgem’ Ride – Watchman Fears Burglary Attempt When Being Warned of Blaze


Firemen yesterday morning fought to save buildings in the vicinity of the ‘Dodgem’ ride in Central Park, which was razed by flames believed to have been started by a short circuit.  Loss is estimated at nearly $9,000 which is covered by insurance.


The fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. and was discovered by Henry Flowers, a park concessionaire.  Flowers went to the park office to notify the watchman, James Krivitsky.  The watchman, who was resting on a couch, feared a burglar attempt and grabbed a club.  He stumbled over a chair and his head hit a door.


Flowers called to the man and Krivitsky opened the door.  After calling firemen, Krivitsky was treated by Dr. Charles A. Rose.  In the meantime, the blaze was seen by people nearby and an alarm was sounded from Box 534, Hanover Ave. and Tacoma St.  Chief Marcks, Assistants Stoneback and Gallagher and district companies answered.


When firemen arrived the building was beyond saving.  Water was played on the nearby park office, roller coaster, caterpillar and the popcorn concession.  Sparks flew high in the air and one landed on a garage several blocks away.  Firemen halted this blaze after it had burned a portion of the roof.


Numerous hose lines were trained on the 75 x 100 frame ‘Dodgem’ building and the nearby structures and traffic across Hanover Ave. was impeded until later in the morning, as the Hibernia truck crew remained on the scene wetting down the blazing embers.


While the firemen were pouring tons of water on the ‘Dodgem’ neighbors had garden hoses ready in the event that sparks landed on their homes or garages. 


The ‘Dodgem’ has been a source of amusement for many park visitors, especially the children.  The riders would steer the little scooters about the building, attempting to crash into scooters operated by their neighbors.  A skilled scooter operator would try to hit as many of his neighbors as possible, while dodging those who tried to strike his car, hence the name of the concession.


The fire was the third at Central Park within the last eight years.  On Sept. 14, 1935, flames consumed the greater portion of the Cyclone Ride and completely destroyed the Skeeball alleys and the ladies rest room, and badly damaged the balloon game concession and another stand.  Loss was estimated at $50,000.


On the morning of May 16, 1932 fire destroyed the Park Theatre, and damaged the Mystic Castle, leveled Ye Olde Mill, one of the most popular rides for romantically inclined couples, as well as five minor concessions.  The loss in this fire was also estimated at $50,000.

The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., April 18, 1941


Roller Skating Rink Destroyed; Was Long Used as Dance Pavilion


An investigation into the cause of the fire which destroyed the rambling frame roller skating rink at Central Park yesterday afternoon was started last night by Fire Chief Clarence Marcks.


The frame building, long one of the most popular dance spots in the Lehigh Valley but used in recent years as a skating rink, was leveled in less than an hour and for a time the flames threatened to consume the nearby theatre.  A large section of the fence around the theatre was burned to the ground, and a number of benches and trees were damaged.


Chief Marcks said he had learned in a preliminary investigation that park employees burned a pile of leaves about 15 feet west of the building.  A brisk southwest wind is believed to have swept the fire over dry grass and under a section of the structure, setting it on fire. 


A still alarm was sounded at 2:45 o’clock and the Rittersville Co. responded.  However, it was quickly realized that the blaze was of large proportions and a box alarm was sent in from Hanover Ave. and Tacoma Sts.  Fire Chief Marcks and Asst. Chiefs Geisinger and Stoneback and six additional pieces of apparatus answered the box alarm.


Despite the intense heat, the firemen managed to check a fire which had started to burn in the theatre, north of the rink, and also kept the flames from setting fire to the Skyclone, to the east.  At 7 o’clock last night the Rittersville Co. was called out again when sparks were seen flying from the tops of several trees.  A booster line was used to end the trouble.


William J. Butler, who recently signed his fourth one-year lease with the Lehigh Realty Co., owners of the park, for operation of the rink said his loss would “approximate $12,000 to $15,000; and I don’t have a nickel’s worth of insurance”.  Among the equipment he lost were 1,000 pairs of skates and an expensive amplification system.


Butler said he had signed a lease some time ago with the management of Dorney Park for the operation of that park’s roller rink, and added that he will open on schedule Sunday.  He had planned to operate the two rinks this summer, and was working at the Dorney Park rink when the fire which stripped him of his equipment started.  Operators of other rinks in Eastern Pennsylvania have offered to lend him skates so that he can open the Dorney rink.


A. G. Nabham, manager of the park, said he was unable to estimate the full loss, nor how much insurance was carried by the park owners.  His own personal loss, not covered by insurance, includes two movie projection machines valued at about $800 and some refreshment stand equipment and stock. 


Burned in the rink building, which measured 120 by 150 feet, were more than 100 park benches and a light truck used for cleaning purposes in the park.


Yesterday’s fire was the fourth in 10 years at the park.


On Sept. 14, 1935, flames consumed the greater portion of the Cyclone ride and completely destroyed the Skee-ball alleys and the ladies’ rest room, and badly damaged the balloon game concession and another stand.  Loss was estimated at $50,000.


On the morning of May 16, 1932, fire destroyed the Park Theatre, and damaged the Mystic Castle, leveled Ye Olde Mill, and five minor concession stands.  The loss in this fire was also estimated at $50,000.  Last June 10 the “Dodgem” ride was razed in a fire which created a $9,000 loss.

The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., May 18, 1944


Three Concessions in Central Park Destroyed, Others Badly Damaged By Fire Which Attracts Large Crowds


In a spectacular fire, which sent flames and smoke high into the sky, three concessions at Central Park were destroyed by fire, three other buildings were razed and two rides were damaged so badly that they were ordered closed by city authorities until proper repairs are made.


A. G. Nabham, operator of the park since 1939, last night said it would be impossible to estimate the amount of damage until a survey is made today. 


George H Slenker, city building inspector, visited the park while the fire was being brought under control and said neither the “Skyclone” nor the “Sleigh Ride” could be operated until repairs were made.  Woodwork on both rides was badly damaged by the flames.


The fire apparently started in the bowling alley and billiard parlor operated by Ervin Rabenold, Spring St., Bethlehem.  It spread quickly6 to the “Roll Down” and balloon and peg game concessions operated by R. W. Spaeth, 136 N. 5th St.  Rabenold could not be contacted last night but Spaeth said his loss would be at least $1,000.

The framework of the shooting gallery, which collapsed last winter, as well as two lavatories were also destroyed.


Clair Rau discovered the fire shortly before 6 o’clock.  He forced the door of the bowling and billiard parlor when he saw smoke emanating and then went to the park office and called the Rittersville fire company.


Assistant Chief Stoneback, the squad wagon, Rittersville and East Allentown companies answered the call and when Stoneback arrived at the scene and saw the extent of the fire he pulled Box 535 at Club Ave. and Hanover Ave.  Chief Marcks and other district companies responded.


The fire was located in the extreme southern end of the park, atop the hill looking down to the Lehigh river and firemen were faced with a difficult problem in getting water to the blaze.  It was necessary to lay 1600 feet of hose from Hanover Ave., the water being boosted by a relay from pumping trucks which were stationed in the center of the park, to get water on the blaze.


While the lines were being laid, the only water played on the fire was from booster tanks on fire trucks and the fire spread through the frame structures so fast they could not be saved.


With the flames soaring into the air, the “Skyclone” and “Sleigh Ride” were soon on fire in a dozen spots.  A nearby pavilion’s roof also went on fire and the firemen concentrated their efforts on saving the rides, the pavilion and other adjacent structures.


Finally, three hose streams were at work halting the blazes on the rides and pavilion and the fire was pronounced under control at 7:40 o’clock.  However, firemen remained on duty until late in the night.


The fire last night was the sixth costly blaze at the park in the last twelve years.  Damage estimated at $50,000 was done on May 15, 1932, when the blaze started in the “Mystic Castle”, spread to “Ye Olde Mill”, the theatre and five concession booths.  All were destroyed.


Another $50,000 loss was reported due to the fire on Sept. 14, 1935, when the “Skyclone” ride was nearly destroyed, this fire being practically in the same spot as the one yesterday.  In the 1935 fire, Skee-ball bowling alleys, the ladies’ ret room and the balloon game concession were destroyed, this being nearly identical to yesterday’s fire.


June 10, 1940, damage of $9,000 was done when the “Dodgem” ride went into flames and nearby buildings were threatened.


The skating rink at the park was razed by a fire on April 17, 1941, which caused damage estimated at the time as being between $12,000 and $15,000.

The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., December 26, 1950


Central Park Derby Racer Leveled by $125,000 Blaze


Another of Central Park’s amusements went up in smoke yesterday as a general alarm fire sent the criss-cross superstructure of the “derby racer” tumbling into a heap of flaming timbers in less than an hour’s time early last night. 


The fourth major fire at the park since 1940, the blaze also badly damaged about 100 feet of the north wall and roof of the circular building housing the merry-go-round.


Damage to the derby racer, one of the amusement spots most popular attractions, was estimated at $125,000 by Atty. George Joseph, who represents the owners, his father John Joseph, and David Moses, his brother-in-law.


Destruction of portable equipment stored in the merry-go-round building and damage to the structure itself brought total fire loss to nearly $150,000.


A very small portion of the loss is covered by insurance, Joseph reported last night.


Allentown firemen – many of whom were summoned from Christmas dinners – answered a still alarm sounded at the Rittersville station at 5:40 p.m.  Five minutes later a box alarm was rung, and at 5:49 p.m. Battalion Chief Robert Moll radioed another alarm.


As flame-lit smoke billowed high in the air over Allentown’s east end, Fire Chief John Butz ordered a general alarm at 5:55 p.m.  Firemen stayed on the job until the 7:56 p.m. release, but flames were brought under control by about 6:40 p.m.


Situated in the eastern end of the park, the high, wooden loops and swirls of the ride were silhouetted by roaring flames less than a quarter of an hour after the first alarm.  Minutes later the fiery latticework crumbled.


Chief Butz said that he believed the fire started in a grease pit in the engine room of the derby racer, but its cause could not be established.


Firefighters concentrated their efforts on the merry-go-round building after the collapse of the ride, chasing the flames with high powered hoses as the fire raced around the circumference of the hollow-domed building. 


The merry-go-round itself received little damage outside of scorched rumps for a number of the carousel’s painted steeds.  The ride when bought cost $28,000.


A score of “airplanes” stored for the winter in the northern end of the 30-year-old building were badly damaged.


The extent of damage to other apparatus housed in the building cannot be determined until this morning, Atty. Joseph said.


The owners of the park paid tribute to the firemen for their “fast and superbly efficient manner of bringing the fire under control”.


Joseph said that it was only due to their excellent work that the remaining rides, ballroom, penny arcade and park office located in the central portion of the park were not threatened by the fire.


Sub-freezing temperatures quickly converted hose-flooded park pathways into icy thoroughfares which made footing treacherous for both firemen and about 800 spectators who watched the quick but brilliant fire.


The only reported casualty was Donald Uhrich, Call-Chronicle photographer.  The middle finger of his right hand was lacerated when he slipped and fell on the ice while taking pictures.  One suture was taken at Sacred Heart hospital dispensary. 


An estimated 6,000 feet of hose was reeled out to quench the flames, according to Chief Butz, who with his assistants, Boyce Royce and Walter Flores directed firefighting activities. 


The chief pointed out that it required one truckload of hose alone to reach from water supplies on both Hanover Ave. and Tacoma St.


Nine blackened transformers were put out of commission as service poles supporting them became enveloped in flame, but power service had been cut off for the upper section of the park since the fall, according to the owners.


John Clauser, P.P. & L. Co. spokesman, said that the damaged units did not affect electric service in the area outside the park.


Two small refreshments stands adjacent to the “derby racer” were scorched.


A park watchman, Alfred Frey, who was working in the ballroom, spotted the flames shortly after the Rittersville Fire Co. received the first alarm.  The Joseph family learned of the fire from friends living near the park.


Atty. Joseph said that one of the park employees reported seeing children playing in the grounds late yesterday afternoon.  The abandoned “sleigh ride” was set afire by youngsters playing with matches in July, 1948.

The Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., August 3, 1951


Fire Destroys Outdoor Stage At Central Park – Damage Estimated at $1,000; Seventh Fire in 20 Years


A $1,000 fire leveled the 20-year old wooden roofed outdoor theater stage at Central Park yesterday.  The blaze of undetermined origin was discovered by an unidentified youth who turned in the alarm at nearby Rittersville Fire Company station shortly after noon.  Firemen were in service until 2 p.m. 


Calls went out to East Allentown, Hibernia and Allen companies after the initial still alarm but despite firemen’s efforts the one story framed building was reduced to charred rubble.


The theater in the southwest corner of the park had been in disuse since last year.


An 8 foot wooden fence surrounding the seating section was partially burned and several seats stored onstage were destroyed with the building.


Firemen laid 1000 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose across Hanover Ave. tying up trolleys and vehicular transportation for nearly a half hour.  Police rerouted motor traffic.


Firemen wetted down surrounding concession stands and equipment saving them from fire danger.


Atty. George Joseph, counsel for park owners John Joseph and David Moses who purchased the park in 1946, said last night he estimated the damage at between $900 and $1,000, the loss partly covered by insurance.


Joseph said the amusement section of the park, the area where the outdoor stage was located, was closed for the summer and that no trespassing signs had been posted.


Residents of the park neighborhood claimed they saw children playing in the posted area yesterday morning Joseph said.


It is understood that the park property is soon to change ownership.  On Tuesday the Zoning Board of Appeals granted permission for the erection of a one-story building at the park.  The sale, according to testimony at the hearing, was contingent on the action of the board.


However, at that time, Atty. J. J. Tallman, representing the prospective purchaser, said he was not at liberty to divulge the identity of the interested persons.


Yesterday’s was the seventh costly blaze at the park since 1932, and the second major fire since Joseph and Moses purchased the park from the Lehigh Valley Realty Company, a subsidiary of the Lehigh Valley Transit Company.


The outdoor stage which was burned yesterday was built in 1932 to replace a theater that was burned in May of that year with a loss of $50,000.


The 1932 fire was the first major blaze in the 57-year-old park.  In that year the original theater plus the Mystic Castle, Ye Olds Mill and five concession stands were destroyed.


Flames consumed most of the Cyclone ride and destroyed the skeeball alley and a women’s restroom in 1935, causing an estimated $50,000 damage.


The dodgem ride building was burned June 10, 1940, at a loss of $9,000, and on April 18, 1941, the park’s skating rink went up on flames with losses estimated at $12,000 to $15,000.


Fire badly damaged the cyclone and the sleigh ride May 18, 1944.  Bowling alleys and the billiard parlor were destroyed in the same blaze.


Last Christmas a $150,000 fire swept through the derby racer and damaged adjacent buildings.


The park’s first stage, built in 1895, was the setting for many famous theatrical performers.  Later motion pictures were featured.