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Lakeside Park rose gardens live up to originator's promise

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

Lakeside Park, just off Lake Avenue between California Avenue and Forest Park Boulevard, is one of the finest of Fort Wayne's beautiful parks. Its award-winning rose gardens enjoy a national reputation for their particularly fine collection of roses.

In size alone, the rose gardens are outstanding. As early as 1930, there were more than 350 varieties of roses found in more than 200 beds containing more than 23,000 rose plants throughout the 3 1/2 acres of gardens. Although more select today, with fewer varieties and fewer plants, the Lakeside Rose Gardens still contain one of the largest collections in the country.

Jaenicke's dream

The Rose Gardens were the special project of Adolph Jaenicke, who served as parks superintendent from 1917 to 1948. A master horticulturalist and landscape designer, Jaenicke was an extraordinary man who envisioned parks as something more than natural settings kept apart for casual use or as memorials to veterans of past wars.

He also saw them as educational places for the lessons taught by their living botanical laboratories and as an introduction to the art of landscaping. And these were lessons that were much-needed in the early 20th- century neighborhoods and individual home lots.

In 1917, he seized upon the tremendous potential of the new Lakeside Park. Its planned sunken gardens and romantic bridges across the little lakes gave life to his personal dream of extensive gardens devoted only to roses. This same intense spirit about the appearance of a park was manifest in Jaenicke's projects at Foster Park and at Swinney Park. It is a tradition that is carried on today within the heart of Fort Wayne's business district at the city's new Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.

Emptying the basins

Lakeside Park was begun in 1908 as an effort to do something useful with the water-filled basins created when huge amounts of earth were removed to build the riverside dikes. In those days, when the area was called The Orchard, new residential developers such as the Fort Wayne Land and Improvement Co. and the Forest Park Co., also wanted to see better use made of those awkward flood ponds.

As a result, these companies gave or sold parcels of land to the Parks Department between 1908 and 1912.

By 1912, the Parks Department managed to make extensive improvements to the area, spending $17,500 to develop the lake's footbridges, extensive floral (not yet rose) gardens, and the sunken garden, with the concrete, pavilionlike structures that are the hallmark of the park today. In 1916, a rustic, two-story pavilion was built for the comfort of picnickers, who rapidly grew in number as the park was developed. By 1925, the sheer number of visitors, most of whom came in family cars, began to pose problems for the surrounding neighborhoods.

One of the most extraordinary of these nearby neighborhoods is Forest Park. With its distinctive double driveway and esplanade (center parkway), the area is known best today for its beautiful homes. It is also a very quiet neighborhood, with a strong neighborhood association and strict zoning restrictions.

The birth of Forest Park

This was the intention of its original developer, Louis F. Curdes.

Curdes, real estate broker and builder, was a part of a circle of developers and neighborhood planners in turn-of-the-century Fort Wayne who, like Lee J. and Joel Ninde, of the Wildwood Development Co., believed in the future of well-planned and regulated residential areas. They were in the forefront of such popular causes as the Clean Yards Movement and the Playground Movement. Although seemingly unimportant today, they were once fundamental to setting decent living conditions as a part of everyday life.

And these developers were influential, too. The esplanade concept, for example, was often central to their plans. And once Forest Park was built, new neighborhoods throughout the north side began to adopt similar - if more modest - patterns for their neighborhoods.

From racing to residences

The Forest Park area originally was the farm of Fred and Eliza Hayden (for whom the old Hayden Park and Hayden School were named). The Fort Wayne Trotting Association leased the place from the Haydens in 1889 and established a large oval racetrack for trotters. The outlines of this half-mile oval are marked today by East and West drives on the northern extension of Forest Park Boulevard. The track was the project of the sons of brewery owner Louis Centlivre. It was the Centlivre Company that first extended a trolley line to the trotting oval, which was then given the name "Driving Park."

Having good public transportation to its location, the Driving Park was ideal as a fairground. In October 1895, when Fort Wayne launched its centennial celebration (one year late) many of the week's activities were conducted there. Perry Randall, an area hotel owner and civic leader, had made all the arrangements, and the city and county together had agreed to pay as much as $5,000 to make the event a success.

At Driving Park, Gov. Claude Matthews presided over several military reviews held by competing companies from neighboring towns, an "illuminated" high-wheeler bicycle parade, and band contests.

Air attractions

In 1902, the Fort Wayne Fair Association took over Driving Park. In 1910, the Curtiss group of stunt flyers came to Fort Wayne to put on an exhibition at Driving Park. Their planes were shipped in by rail, carted out to the park and there assembled to be flown - this was all part of the show, of course. One who was particularly excited about the visit was a young man named Art Smith, who later gained fame as Fort Wayne's "Bird Boy," the city's most famous early aviator.

This event was Smith's first look at a real airplane, and it was his first meeting with a real pilot, although he had already built and flown his own airplane.

In 1913, Driving Park was bought by Louis Curdes' Forest Park Co. Within the year, he converted it into the residential area that it is today.

--Feb. 7, 1994