Luna Park is working towards a new, more inclusive future
CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK)—A community on the West Side of Charleston strives to preserve history while learning from the past. The Luna Park neighborhood was once home to an amusement park that drew people from far beyond the borders of West Virginia by boat and trolley, but it wasn’t open to everyone.
Now there is pressure to encourage anyone to come and live there and invest in the community.
Today, the Luna Park Historic District and the area surrounding it is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the Mountain State. But there was a time when even a talented architect designing houses in the community wouldn’t have been allowed to live there.
“I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life,” said committee member Janet Ennis. “My children were raised here and I learned so much more. I was like ‘oh my God, I lived where an amusement park was.’ It was exciting for me.
For Ennis and many of his neighbors living in a place where an amusement park once stood, there are good conversations.
But while participating in this project, she learned that she probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the park because of her skin color.
“We haven’t found definitive proof, but we’re pretty sure that all of our historians say it was probably a whites-only park or that blacks and other ethnicities wouldn’t be allowed in. in the park,” said Corey Zinn, Marketing and Marketing. Creative consultant for the project. “It’s kind of a bittersweet story and that made it a really tough project.”
As the Luna Park Historic District Committee struggled to select designs for signs marking the area and develop a plan to breathe new life into the community, they focused on balancing good and the evil.
“There’s a lot of history here, cultural history, so we had to make sure we recognized everyone who was involved with the park to start with historically,” said Shauna Steadman, who lives in the community.
Committee members went door to door to gather feedback from neighbors to ensure that even the toughest things weren’t overlooked.
“Things are going well and they’re not turning away from the Luna Park story and that’s what I appreciate,” said Martec Washington, who lives in the community. “Yes, it was a bad time. But now we are celebrating the region and not what was happening inside the park.
In the early 1900s, there were Luna Parks across the country. Charleson’s would see up to 15,000 people on a busy day with attractions like a roller coaster, pool, ice rink and performers.
The park burned down in 1923. but still, some were barred from buying any of the 95 lots that were for sale where the park once stood.
“It was very difficult to showcase the good parts of the park, the joy and all this festivities and stuff, while recognizing that people were being left out of this park and that was a huge problem,” Zinn said. “Even after it burned down and all these houses were built that we now consider historic, built in the 20s and early 30s, there were all these deed restrictions that only white people would have bought these houses.”
Project leaders say famed black architect John C. Norman, Sr., who designed many homes and commercial buildings in and around Charleston, also designed a row of five homes in the 300 block of Park Avenue in the Luna Park District. But because of the deed restrictions, he could not have lived there.
“That area didn’t include blacks and browns. You know we were the help and that was it. If you were in that area you were the help and you were kicked out,” Washington said.
Restrictions on deeds were officially lifted in 1967 under pressure to open more housing to African Americans displaced by urban renewal and other projects. It is a moment in the history of the region that the committee does not want to neglect.
“Now what I love about Luna Park is that they invite everyone,” Washington said. “It doesn’t matter race, sexuality, none of that matters. This is an area for everyone. So it presents the story of the park, but not the story of what the park and the community have done to people.
Ennis and his partner Danny Boyd love their life here now, but can’t help but reflect on how things would have been when the park was in its prime.
“You know, one of my fantasies when I first moved here was ‘God, I wish I had a time machine, I would so love to come back and visit the park when it was alive’ , and then I met Janet a few years earlier and I was like, ‘Well, if we could, she wouldn’t be allowed.’
Ennis said she still enjoys what the area has to offer.
“Being racist doesn’t suit me at all. Me, I wasn’t raised that way to see people in a division. But I get it. So when I see it and when my kids see it, they just see the struggles that our people have been through. There is no hatred towards anyone or anything like that,” she said.
The large colorful signs that now line the neighborhood are just one of the symbols of years of work to make everyone feel good there.
“It’s really an amazing story that today it’s one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in West Virginia and so it’s really something to celebrate,” Zinn said. “It’s something to invest in and I think it’s an opportunity to really build what a neighborhood should be.”
It’s a new chapter focused on the future of Luna Park and Charleston’s West Side.
“I hope they learn that community isn’t based on color or wealth or anything like that, it’s just through kindness and caring for one another,” said Ennis.
The committee also plans to put up additional panels on the history of the area. You can check the Luna Park website with videos and additional information here.