History of Green Bay's Parks

Bay Beach Amusement Park

Property was first purchased from Frank Murphy and Rahr Realty in 1920 - 11.66 acres. About 8 acres were added to Bay Beach between 1933 and 1948. Officially annexed to City in 1929.

The Park Committee of the Council and the Park Department leased the area to private individuals for operation until 1950 when it was turned over to the Recreation Department. There were only four seasonal managers until 1983 when a full time Special Facilities Manager was hired to run Bay Beach and Triangle Sports Area.

There have been two roller coaster operations - the original was built in 1901 and torn down in 1922 after the area was purchased by the City. In 1929 another one was erected, and a miniature train and merry-go-round were put in by a private party. Due to insurance problems with the roller coaster, it was dismantled in 1936. The salvage was used for bleachers, backstops, and by other departments and the County.

At one time when Bay Beach was under private lease, there was a public roller skating rink in the pavilion, which was discontinued in 1933.

For many years, Bay Beach was a favorite swimming facility, and a trolley ran from downtown. One could even rent a bathing suit if he happened to come unprepared for a dip. In 1930, a new bathhouse was built. After pollution was discovered, swimming discontinued in 1933 and warning signs posted, but swimming continued off and on until it finally stopped in 1938. However, people would swim in the Bay along private beaches.

The first live pony rides were offered to the public in 1931 by Frank VanBellinger, grandfather of Steve VanBellinger who is the third generation to continue this activity, which is so popular.

Remember Pete Pharris? He ran the dining room at the Beach in 1928 and 1929 and later had the "Karomele Shop" downtown. Daughter Barb worked for the department for many years in various seasonal jobs.

1931 - Park & Recreation Employee, Val Schneider, made radio broadcasts on Station WHBY from the beach.

The first fireworks were held at Bay Beach in 1936 and 1937. Half the cost was paid by the Green Bay Athletic Association, which operated the bathhouse.

Beer was sold at Bay Beach when it was under private lease agreement with the Park Board, and both city and federal licenses had to be obtained.

The Federal Trades Union took over and ran the Beach for Labor Day weekend in 1939 and for several years after that.

1941 - The old log cabin was rewired, and various high school bands played summer concerts after the Park Board assumed the operation. In 1942, the floor was replaced in the pavilion for a roller rink.

1945 - The pavilion at Bay Beach was open two nights a week for recreation activities for "kiddies" - $.15 admission. Free transportation was furnished by WPS. No one was permitted to leave the building during the dances, and two chaperones were on duty.

1946 - The Fraternal Order of Eagles was given a contract to operate Bay Beach with Bernard Zilles as manager. The City was to receive 10% of the receipts and one check bounced.

For one or two seasons, Ray Greatens operated the live pony ring at the Beach and also Fisk Park. Walter Van Bellinger again assumed the operation in 1950 when the Beach was put under the supervision of the Recreation Department. The rides were $.09 and the City received 10% of the receipts. He was allowed to take his ponies into other city parks for a year or two, and in 1952, he had a horseback riding program using trails established around the Sanctuary lagoons.

1950 - Sale of beer was discontinued. A hostelry was opened in the bathhouse, and a model airplane field was established.

1952 - Skeet shooting was allowed for a short time.

1953 - A merry-go-round with old wooden horses was purchased for $4,000 and also some other rides - $.05 for children and $.10 for adults.

1954 - Russ Widoe, a well-known radio personality, resigned as manager and Ted Fritsch was hired as replacement. Lloyde Fox had a rental contract to run the skating rink in the West End of the pavilion.

A used Ferris Wheel was purchased for $8,700 and the miniature train was replaced.

1956 - Before renewing Ted Fritsch’s summer contract, the Park Board asked him to submit a written statement verifying that he was not running for elective office in Brown County. He was also instructed to provide amusement ride tickets to Board members and their families and also children at the orphanage and referrals from the Welfare Department.

The Navy Club was given permission by the Common Council to erect a memorial marker and flagpole. This was improved in 1971.

1959 - Skating was discontinued in the pavilion, and eight bumper cars were purchased and installed.

1963 - A new helicopter ride was purchased.

1968 - A second miniature train was purchased, and the Park Board turned down a request to winterize the pavilion.

1970 - A giant slide was erected.

1971 - The old merry-go-round was sold, and a new one was purchased for over $14,000. The wooden horses were snapped up as collectors’ items.

1972 - Teenage dances phased out.

1973 - Request was repeated to establish a marina at Bay Beach. A day camp was held for the handicapped.

1977 - A new Scrambler ride was installed.

An off shore island was proposed to be created by dredged materials from the Green Bay harbor. Roads were vacated for development.

1979 - Pony rides were increased from $.10 to $.15. The old log cabin was moved to the Heritage Hill State Park.

1981 - The Beach operation was extended through September for weekends only.

The Surf Club/Tavern property at the corner of N. Irwin and Bay Beach Rd. was purchased after a long drawn out process involving lawsuits over relocation.

1982 - The shore area west of Bay Beach up to Sauk Avenue was placed on the Official Map as parkway property, which initiated an expansion program of land acquisition to alleviate crowded conditions at the Amusement Park. Five parcels were purchased, and habitable houses were rented under property management. An exchange of right-of-way with Chester McDonald was part of the road improvement after Surf Club buildings were torn down.

A policy change was made by the Park Committee to allow private caterers to serve picnics held at Bay Beach. This policy was rescinded after revenues dropped.

A used Tilt-A-Whirl ride was purchased.

1983 to 1989 - The cost of property purchased was $621,475 plus relocation costs of approximately $77,579. $104,975 was received in matching LAWCON funds.

1985 - A new ride was installed called "The Scat."

1988 - The annual Fourth of July fireworks and band concert moved to the downtown area.

1989 - Carl Doan, Special Facilities Manager, retired and was replaced by Bill Fischer.

1990 - A special arrangement was made with a caricature artist to operate at Bay Beach with 10% of the gross being paid to Bay Beach.

1995 - The City co-sponsored ballroom dancing at the Bay Beach pavilion with the Green Bay Chapter of the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancer's Assn., Inc. L&M Carriage began providing carriage rides between the Bay Beach Amusement Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

1996 - An agreement was approved between the City and Bruce Marshall to provide a ballroom dance program at the Bay Beach Pavilion.

1997 - Approval was given for Bay Beach to sub-contract its catering service and concentrate on higher profit concession items for one year.

1997 - Teen Nights began at Bay Beach Amusement Park in cooperation with the Police Department with WIXX broadcasting. They were discontinued there during 2005 due to problems caused by some of the people attending.

1997 - Leadership Green Bay began construction of the Train Depot at Bay Beach miniature train ride.

1998 - Three Kiddie rides (Sky Fighter, Granny Bugs and Midgo Racer) were purchased from Thumb Fun Amusement Park.

2000 - Bay Beach Amusement Park rides (Tilt-A-Whirl, Scrambler, Yo Yo, Scat and Bumper Cars) were set at 40 cents and slide and all other existing rides were set at 20 cents. Ride revenues exceeding $550,000 were to be placed in a separate account for future development of the amusement park.

2003 - With an opportunity for free fill, staff began plans for grading the west end of Bay Beach.

Phase 1 of the Bay Beach Pavilion Project proceeded including remodeling restrooms, plumbing, foyer, office, electrical, entryway and handicap access.

A 1947 model miniature train was purchased from a private individual for $38,500. Dan Lardinois, Equipment & Shop Supervisor, was instrumental in locating and moving this train, which could be used as the west end develops.

Ticket prices increased five cents.

2005 - Smoking was banned in the amusement area of the Bay Beach Amusement Park.

2007 - The final parcel was purchased to allow expansion west of Bay Beach. The Bay Beach Master Plan Committee was formed with members of the community (including former Director Chet Miller) and staff providing ideas for future development of Bay Beach. Schreiber/Anderson Associates, Inc. was chosen as the consultant for the Bay Beach Master Plan.

2008 - A 1936 Smith Chair Plane ride was donated to the park.


Notes

  1. Only annotated statements have been verified. Any other historical statements are unverified and based on personal knowledge or informal notes kept by the Green Bay Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department.
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