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When “Phoenix Park” became “East Lake Park”


Some of the earliest photos of streetcars on the Washington Street line display the sign, "To The Natatorium" as in this photo, courtesy the Arizona Pioneer Historical Society and also seen on page 4 of Larry Fleming’s book Ride A Mile and Smile the While.

Natatorium being a rather fancy word for an indoor swimming pool. We do have an illustration of the facility, used in advertisements in the Arizona Republican through the 1890s: In those days, the property of the Sherman’s street railway was known as Phoenix Park. We have this from the May, 20, 1892 newspaper.

Phoenix Park Destined to Become A Popular Pleasure Resort Natatorium, Theater, Gymnasium and Refreshments will Make the Summer Months Pleasant. A reporter for The Republican visited Phoenix Park yesterday for the purpose of inspecting the natatorium, theater and other attractions calculated to aid our people in passing pleasantly the summer months. The natatorium is completed and is being flushed and filled with water. It is at the eastern side of the park, a large, roomy building covering a pool or plunge bath 100 feet long by thirty feet wide and six and-a-half feet deep at the lower end. The pool has a waste pipe, which will carry off all surplus water that constantly pours in at the upper end, and is also supplied with a gate at the lowest point, which will be used to completely drain the bath twice a week. [This being two years before the addition of chlorine to water for purification purposes was proposed, in 1894.] The building has twenty bath rooms [the doors in the illustration], [and] electric lights… No mproper characters will be admitted…


On July 30, 1895, the Republican proudly reported that “The natatorium has become the Mecca of all who would seek refuge from the sweltering heat of summer. The City Electric railway aids and abets the flight of the refugees and makes the return to the city so inviting that past tortures are forgotten.”

On July 30, 1895, the Republican proudly reported that “The natatorium has become the Mecca of all who would seek refuge from the sweltering heat of summer. The City Electric railway aids and abets the flight of the refugees and makes the return to the city so inviting that past tortures are forgotten.” The 1899 Phoenix City Directory contains this invitation

In addition to bathing, there was baseball, football, plays, picnics, fireworks, and a whole host of diversions to enjoy. Phoenix Park was well-patronized and one of the main reasons the Washington Street line was always the Street Railway’s most profitable. By 1902, the Park was becoming too small for the growing city. In February, Sherman’s company nearly doubled the size of the Park, with the final large event at the “old” park being a football game between the Indian School team and the Phoenix school team: Football fans may note that this match presaged the first interscholastic league in Arizona which was proposed for the 1904 season, including the Phoenix Union High School the Phoenix Indian School, the Tempe Normal College (later ASU), and Tucson’s University of Arizona. Smaller events such as picnics continued during construction of the Park in March and April in preparation for the summer season.


We have this description from the February 9, 1902 Republican:


The New Phoenix Park. A Place That Will Shortly Be a Real Pleasure Resort. The management of Phoenix park is spending some thousands of dollars in improving that property and making it what its name signifies. By the time warm weather comes again it will be a pleasure resort in reality and one that will certainly be appreciated by every resident of the city. The work has been quietly going on for a month or two and is now so far advanced that the visitor can form a fair idea of what it will be a little later. As mentioned some time ago in these columns, a new athletic field has been added on the south, and the grand stand moved and repaired. Where the old ball ground was there is now a beautiful lake a quarter of a mile in circumference with an island in the center thirty-five feet high. That is, it is a lake all but the water, and the water will be turned on in a few days when there will be excellent opportunity for boating… A boat house will be erected near the west end of the lake, and eight rowboats have been ordered… On the highest point of the island there will be erected an observatory twenty-five feet high, making a total height above the surrounding country of sixty or seventy feet and from it a good view of the city may be obtained… But the greatest convenience of all is the new loop in the street car track. From the former end of track it turns south to Jefferson street, then west by the swimming bath and along the north line of the park and then north to Washington street, so the trip to the east end of the line and back will be made without stopping to turn the seats around, and passengers will be taken directly to the door of the bath house and to the new park entrance but a feet from the door of the theater. The track is all laid except the switch and will be entirely completed at an early day.

From this we know that any photo with a streetcar reading “East Lake Park” cannot be earlier than February 1902, as there was no lake before that!



The name “Phoenix Park” continued through May 1902, though the instant popularity of the lake seems to have led to a nearly immediate renaming of the entire park, with the

newspaper referring to the “Lake park” in June; by August, the streetcar company itself was calling it East Lake Park, as seen in this advert:



So now you know the rest of the story about the time when Phoenix Park became East Lake!


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