Friday, March 11, 2022

West View Park Remembered

When West View Park opened in 1906, it was advertised as an escape from the smog of downtown Pittsburgh. At the time, it was one of seven amusement parks in the Pittsburgh area, but only two parks--West View and Kennywood--found long-term prosperity. If still open today, it would be a mere 10-minute drive from my house!
West View Historical Society

West View Park closed for good in 1977, but a shopping center built on the site bears the park’s name, and its sign is topped with a carousel horse---serving as a visible reminder of a once-legendary Pittsburgh amusement park.

Attractions during the first few years were modest, but before World War I, people didn’t come to amusement parks for the rides. Although there was an Old Mill ride and a small roller coaster, the most popular attractions were group picnics, boating on the lake, and especially dancing. 

Known as Danceland, the dance hall would ultimately burn to the ground in 1973 after being one of West View’s greatest draws for decades. Recently, while writing a school newspaper story, I was able to hear some memories from locals who visited the park. “My parents met at Danceland right before my dad was drafted, and they were married for 63 years,” said Cheryll Geisler.

Dips coaster -- West View Historical Society

West View Park was the source of countless romances over the decades, but as the park grew, amusement rides--and especially roller coasters--became more important to its success. In 1911, the park opened its most famous attraction, the Dips. This simply-named coaster would be upgraded in 1929, but with its steep drops and thrilling swoop turn just feet off of Perry Highway, it remained West View’s most popular ride until the park’s end.

West View Historical Society
With the popularity of the Dips, West View Park soon opened another major roller coaster, the dual-tracked Racing Whippet. Ingrained into the natural topography at the back of the park, the Whippet is fondly remembered. Local resident Rick O'Leary told me that "One Saturday in 1970, my cousin and I rode the Racing Whippet over and over for the whole day -- many, many hours in a row. We didn't ride another ride all day.” 
West View Historical Society
Some of my own family members even have memories of West View Park, as it was home to my grandfather’s ironworkers' picnic until closing in 1977. My dad remembers seeing the huge bat on the front of the Haunted House and riding the Caterpillar with his mom.
Rock-O-Plane -- West View Historical Society

West View Park is responsible for countless fond memories, but it also served as a memorable first job for many local teenagers:

"When I started working there, I was so thirsty one day that I took a drink of water from the Fish Pond trough. It was only after I swallowed a mouthful that I realized how many hands had been in the water that I had just drank," said Ellen Aschenbrenner.

The park after its closure in 1977 -- West View Historical Society

While it can be hard to believe that Pittsburgh was once home to two major amusement parks, the West View Park Shopping Center leaves no question about the park’s existence. Though I am sad that I never got to experience West View Park, I don't think that its importance will ever be forgotten.