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History of Franklin Park

Franklin Park covers an area of more than 20 acres extending from Lawrence Street to Puget Sound and from South 12th to South 16th. The majority of the land was a gift to the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma from the West End Playground Association in 1937 for a "perpetual public park and playground". The new park was named Franklin Park due to its proximity to Franklin Elementary School.

The idea for a park in this section of town goes back to 1909 when former Mayor and Park Board Commissioner W. W. Seymour donated two lots to the Franklin School, which were used to "teach the children something of flora culture". Seymour suggested that the lots could be used as a part of Franklin Park when it was developed.

In 1911 the Board of Park Commissioners, in their annual report, suggested the purchase of 12 double blocks at Franklin Lake (also known as Hoodlum Lake**) for a park, but nothing was done at this time.

Numerous civic organizations, individuals, and corporations worked on the project of raising money to purchase the Franklin Park property which was finally accomplished in 1937.  Additional pieces of property were either purchased by or donated to the Park District over the years.

Shortly after the 1937 land donation a committee was formed to determine the needs for the development of the new park. The long range development plan included:

    Tennis Bowl – a battery of 6 tennis courts located along 12th Street
    Battery of Horse Shoe Courts – near Puget Sound Ave.
    Shuffle Board Courts
    Archery Range
    Twilight Theater – a natural setting for an outdoor theater
    Field House – near the location of the lake
    Bocci Ball Area – Italian bowling on clay courts
    Picnic Grounds – including outdoor fireplaces
    Casting Platform – for the younger generation of fishermen
    Jumbo sandbox and wading pool
    Rustic shaded places for quite games for older people
    Vista House – at the top of the hill near South 12th Street including an auditorium, club rooms and creative crafts
    Nature study trails and rock gardens for the beauty as well as the study of native trees and shrubs

The committee pointed out that it was important to notice the absence of commercial equipment in the proposed plan. The community has always endorsed free play and wide open spaces properly supervised.

Even without many of the above listed improvements, Franklin Park officially opened in the summer of 1941.

By 1948 night-time fastball for semi-professional teams in Tacoma were in progress at Franklin Park. Complaints promptly poured in about the lights, the noise, and the traffic. Meetings of protest were held and two years later the lights were removed from the park.

The wading pool opened during the summer of 1949 and was a popular feature of the summer playground program.

Improvements continued at Franklin Park in the 1950s. On August 6, 1953 the tennis courts, hard surfaced play area, and outdoor kitchen were dedicated with much pomp and circumstance.

In 1969 the Park District began draining Franklin Lake and filling it in with dirt. Apparently because of the complaint of a neighbor who was concerned about the safety of children playing near the lake. The project spread over a couple of years and caused others in the neighborhood to complain about the loss of this park feature.

In 1980 the Park District turned down an offer from Gold Creek Limited Partnership to trade Franklin Park for Gold Creek – 40 acres on the west side of town near North 30th and Vassault Street. The Commissioners decided that "Franklin Park's high use and strategic location in the urban area" was too important to lose.

In 1993/94 the Tacoma School District worked on plans for the construction of a new Franklin Elementary School. The new design called for negotiations between the School District and the Park District to redefine the property boundaries. The Park District expressed concern that any new design should honor the 1937 deed and that Franklin Park remain a "perpetual public park and playground…maintained as such for the use and benefit of all citizens."

** Hoodlum Lake, later called Franklin Lake, was the "old swimming hole" to many boys in the West side of Tacoma. The lake was reputed to have been discovered in the early 1880s by "Biz" Burnham and his brother Nick. Sheltered by a forest of second growth timber and brush and far from the beaten path, it was an ideal place for boys to learn to swim. Some who learned to swim there recalled that it seemed like almost a five-mile walk from the residential district to the lake. John Westover, a sort of combination truant officer and patrolman, tried to make the boys wear bathing suits but the lads ignored his efforts until one day he found their hidden clothes, gathered them up, and would not relinquish them until the boys promised to wear swimming suits. Many of them then began appearing in flour sacks, with holes cut for the legs. "Pillsbury's Best" in large red letters was splashed across the back of many an improvised bathing suit.