Indy’s White City Amusement Parks: An Affair with the World’s Fair:
1Named the “White City” for its Combination of White Stucco and Streetlights
At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, visitors were treated to novel entertainment in the form of an amusement park. Following the Exposition, amusement parks began cropping up across the United States. Indianapolis got three – Riverside Amusement Park, Wonderland, and White City Amusement Park.
Located in Broad Ripple, the White City Amusement Park opened on May 26, 1906. The park sat at the end of a streetcar line, making it easily accessible to residents of Indianapolis, for a cost of twenty centers per person.
On opening day, the park gained local attention by hiring an airship, the White Eagle, to hover over the park. It dropped money orders that could be redeemed at the Indianapolis Star news office.
White City featured rides, live entertainment, and a bandstand. Visitors flocked to the park’s merry-go-round, roller coasters, and funhouse. Entertainment included marching bands, acrobats, and vaudeville shows. Exhibits such as “Fighting the Flames,” a mock firefighting display, were also very popular. Restaurants, a baseball diamond, even a place for roller skating and dancing.
All three area parks opened to great fanfare, but owners realized almost immediately that three parks with similar offerings were not sustainable in such proximity. White City tried to beat out its rivals by innovating. They worked to attract the best talent for live entertainment. In 1907, the park added a billiard hall, a model city, and an exhibit titled “Paris by Night” to distinguish itself from competitors.
4Biggest. Pool. Ever.
In 1908, White City announced the opening of its newest attraction – the largest swimming pool in the world. The pool was dug from two acres of land and measured 500 feet by 250 feet. It was set to open on June 27, 1908.
The night before the big grand opening, tragedy struck at the park. A fire started in the Mystic Cave exhibit, and soon it had spread across park grounds. The new pool was the only area that didn’t burn to the ground.
Unfortunately, most of the park was uninsured. Owners couldn’t afford to rebuild. The park sat vacant for three years before it was finally purchased by the Union Traction Company of Indiana. Shortly thereafter, the park reopened. Under new ownership, the pool became one of the main attractions. A dance hall, dining hall, and playground rounded out the new park’s offerings.
The pool gained national attention. In 1922, the park hosted a national swimming competition. In 1924, Olympic tryouts were conducted there.
The Park Site Today
In May 1922, the White City Amusement Park was sold to the Broad Ripple Amusement Park Association, and the park was renamed the Broad Ripple Amusement Park. Then, in 1945, it changed hands again. The park was purchased by the City of Indianapolis and turned into a public park. The pool was filled in.
6An End of an Era
Today, the era of amusement park entertainment in Indianapolis is a distant memory. All that remains of the White City’s past is a historic carousel now installed at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Dating to about 1917, the carousel has been a fixture at the museum since the 1960s.