Forest Lodge served West Akron recreation needs for years
|Forest Lodge, shown here in recent times, was once used for preschool and after-school programs through the Akron Recreation Bureau. The caretaker of Forest Lodge Park lived in the building, according to Joanne Breiding, of the Northwest Family Recreation Center.|
|Photo courtesy of Joanne Breiding|
|In 2002, most programs at Forest Lodge were moved to the new Northwest Family Recreation Center, which is shown here when it was nearly completed along with the new Northwest Akron branch library.|
|Photo: Ken Crisafi|
Forest Lodge Park, located on Greenwood Avenue near St. Sebastian Church, served as the site for a city ice rink, according to Joanne Breiding, who is currently center supervisor for the Northwest Family Recreation Center.
“The first date I had with my husband, I remember sitting on the wall and putting my skates on,” Breiding said.
Over the years, Breiding, who was the center supervisor for Forest Lodge from 1985 to 2002, has heard stories about the origins and early years of the Forest Lodge property. She said the property is believed to have been donated to the city by Arthur Hudson Marks, who also owned the property that is today Our Lady of the Elms. According to the Summit County Historical Society, Marks was an “inventive genius” who revolutionized the rubber industry.
Breiding said the area was called Elm Hill Park. She has heard there was a pond and cabin on the site and Marks used the property for hunting.
“That’s probably why they called it Forest Lodge,” she said.
The building called Forest Lodge was one of several Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects built in Akron in the 1930s.
“Each were built to provide recreation,” she said. “Forest Lodge was an ice-skating lodge.”
A caretaker lived upstairs, she said, while the downstairs was open for recreation.
“Upstairs was living quarters, bedrooms and a small kitchen,” Breiding said. “The caretaker was responsible for cutting the grass and maintaining the property.”
The original caretaker lived in the lodge and had three children who attended St. Sebastian School, she said.
When Breiding began working at the site, there were still remnants of the family’s living quarters in the building.
“The storeroom was the bathroom,” she said. “When I got there, there was still a tub and sink.”
Over the years, she met the children who grew up in the house and they shared stories about their childhoods.
“There were the three kids living in what became the preschool room,” Breiding said. “My office was their parents’ bedroom.”
The basement was used for arts classes and other more passive forms of recreation, she said.
To make the skating rink, city officials flooded the property each winter. At some point, the stone wall was built to contain the skating area. A fire in the lodge allowed skaters to get warm.
Breiding said in the 1970s the city hosted a winter festival at the park. She also recalls the Cleveland Barons professional ice hockey team came to give a demonstration on the ice.
Eventually, Breiding said, the stone wall was removed. And after years of use, the bowl-shaped indentation in the ground lost its shape. To alleviate drainage problems in the area in the early 1980s, the city created a retention pond at the park, but it didn’t work as well for skating, Breiding said.
Over the years, the city used Forest Lodge as one of the sites for its popular preschool program. Eventually, dance classes began to be offered there as well.
“We had the after-school program and all the specials, like egg hunts, lunch with Santa, a Christmas party for preschoolers and a haunted caretakers house for 10 years,” Breiding said.
In the 1990s, Akron began to look into creating more community centers.
“We saw that recreation was changing and the city felt strongly about the idea of community,” Breiding said. “We realized that recreation just isn’t something for the kids to do in the middle of the summer. Our older adult program was growing, we were getting more diversified, and people needed spaces for community groups to meet and hold events.”
Firestone Park was the first modern recreation center and the Northwest Family Recreation Center was patterned after it, Breiding said. For the West Akron center, the city entered into a partnership with the Akron-Summit County Public Library, which wanted to build a new branch library in the neighborhood to replace the Ayers Branch.
The recreation center and library opened in August 2002 at what was called Northwest Park on Shatto Avenue.
Breiding said most programs moved from Forest Lodge to the new recreation center, although Forest Lodge still was used for a time.
Today, the building is used for some community meetings and block watch groups, according to Greg Kalail, manager of the Akron Recreation Bureau. He said he’s not certain what will become of the 80-year-old building.
The staff and users of the newer center appreciate what they have today, Breiding said.
“It’s pretty bad when your workplace is smaller than the house you live in,” Breiding said of being at Forest Lodge. “Sometimes in the winters we had 40 or 50 kids in the building just looking for a place to sit.”
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