Why Lakeside is the best amusement park in Denver
Once upon a time, like twenty years ago, Lakeside and Elitch's were comparable amusement parks of the turn-of-the-last-century persuasion. Yes, prior to being ripped out by its north Denver roots at West 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street and tossed carelessly into the Platte River area by downtown and rebranded as a Six Flags, Elitch Gardens had much of the beauty that is Lakeside today.
Stephen Cummings for Westword A grand view of Lake Rhoda from the top of the Cyclone roller coaster.
If Elitch's were still in its original location in 2014, you might be able to actually compare the two. But as it stands, they're so completely different that it's easy to see why Lakeside rules. (Even so, I will explain why -- in the process filling my personal annual requirement of writing a slobbering love letter to the most beautiful place in Colorado, one that I will defend to my death, even if that death is on Lakeside's roller coaster, the Cyclone. I'm kidding! Sort of.)
Look, Lakeside isn't fancy. It isn't an amusement park you visit for the latest in upside-down, shake-the-shit-out-of-you rides. It is a place for nostalgists and those on the cheap, architectural lookie-loos and people who want to buy a lot of fun for under $20. Being a person who fantasizes about rotary-dial phones still being commonplace and makes a "living" as a writer, I qualify for all of the above.
If you love art-deco anything, Lakeside has acres of eye candy. Though the park opened in 1908, in the late '40s, architect Richard Crowther was brought in to spruce up the joint, adding a gorgeous assortment of neon-lit ticket booths and ride entrances. The foliage, too, is something I have always loved -- and something that Elitch's lost when the park that was famous for its gardens moved into town and replaced all that greenery with cement.
With nostalgia comes ambience, something Lakeside has in droves. At night, the neon and blinking bulbs come alive, from the flickering, half-lit sign for the Wild Chipmunk to the zippy pink-and-green fluorescence of the Hurricane's ticket booth. Ancient trees dot the cement and asphalt trails that wind from the Kiddieland entrance to the boarded-up Riviera Ballroom on the edge of Lake Rhoda.
And speaking of Lake Rhoda, did you know there's a real-life Rhoda? Though Elitch's carries a name rich in Colorado history, Lakeside can brag that the namesake of its body of water, Rhoda Krasner, is not only alive and well, she runs the park. When her father, Ben Krasner, purchased Lakeside, he changed the lake's name from West Berkeley Lake.