In the early 20th century, the area on either side of the Belle Isle Bridge was Detroit’s Coney Island, with a series of amusement parks lining East Jefferson Avenue. Just west of the bridge approach was Electric Park.
When it opened May 24, 1905, the Detroit Free Press proclaimed it the greatest electrical display ever seen outside of the Pan-American Exposition. Electric Park, it said, will “make Chicago’s White City and Luna Park at Coney Island retire from the front of the stage.”
There were rides, vaudeville, and circus and musical acts, but also curiosities, such as ostrich racing, firefighting demonstrations, and attractions with names like “The Inferno and Menz Devil.” But once the novelty wore off, and with the competing Wolff’s Park next door, Electric Park struggled to keep the lights on.
Instead of cutting costs, owner Arthur Gaukler just kept adding new attractions each year, digging himself deeper in debt. The park closed Aug. 16, 1909, and the land was ordered sold. Half of the park was demolished in 1911, after that portion was bought by the Detroit Stove Works next door; that same year, a fire wiped out several rides on the other half.
But Gaulker wouldn’t give up. He sold his family’s Gaulker’s Point property on Lake St. Clair to Henry Ford and used the money to rescue what remained of Electric Park, the other half, from foreclosure. He started erecting a new 2-mile roller coaster, but died in 1912 before it could be completed.
The site and coaster opened as Pike’s Peak, which then became the Derby Racer and was eventually folded into the Riverview Park resort next door, on the east side of the bridge approach. All of Riverview was demolished by the City in 1928 as a public nuisance and turned into Gabriel Richard Park.