Memories of “The Park” turn 40

The "Hippie Park" building

The “Hippie Park” building as it looked when the arena was in full operation. In the early 1970s, The Park brought both musical talent and controversy to North Baltimore. (Photo by Tom Boltz)

Do you remember where you were 40 years ago on July 10? Were you one of the 3,000 who attended the concert at “The Park?”

Headliners for that first concert included The Velvet Underground and Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Park was an outdoor concert venue where many of the top Rock and Roll entertainers of the era performed. It was located on the southwest corner of State Route 18 and Hough Road, less than a mile west of North Baltimore.

If you have a desire to return to that area today to reminisce, you will find that a lovely brick home, large pole barn, and recreation pond now occupy that site. In driving by that once “famous” corner today, one would have no idea what went on there during the summers of 1971 and 1972. There is nothing left of any of the building, the stockade fence is no longer there, and other homes have been built along Hough Road. The buildings sat empty and fell into disrepair after The Park closed and were eventually razed and buried on the site.

The Park only lasted two years, but those two years were an “exciting time” for people in and around North Baltimore. Curious onlookers, mostly those of the “older generation,” didn’t actually go “inside the fence” to watch the performers, but found a “viewing location” from the middle of the nearby railroad tracks. Some of the “railroad watchers” even brought lawn chairs to sit in and watch and listen to the “goings on” (not as many trains traveled the railroad tracks in the 1970s as use them today), although one didn’t need to get close to hear the music. People who lived two and three miles away said they could hear the music.

Most of the concerts were an “all day and night” affair. Evenings were usually topped off with nationally known performers such as Canned Heat, Alice Cooper, The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Savoy Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, The Velvet Underground, and Chuck Berry. Many Detroit area bands were featured including The Up, MC5, Bob Seger, and Third Powers. Prices for the tickets ranged from $2.50 to $3.50.

Houses that became The Park

During the mid-1900s, William Steiff operated a slaughterhouse on the southwest corner of State Route 18 and Hough Road. By the 1970s, when the area was converted to The Park, only one of the buildings that housed the Steiff slaughterhouse was still in existence.

Hall of Fame

Little did those who came to The Park (or “Hippie Park” as the locals called it) realize they were listening to entertainers who would one day be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Here is a list of some of the performers who appeared at The Park that are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The Allman Brothers, Alice Cooper, Dr. John, Chuck Berry, Bob Seger, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Velvet Underground, Commander Cody, Nite Watchmen, Ike and Tina Turner, Buddy Guy, and ZZ Top. Some of these entertainers are still providing music for today’s generation.

Doug Ruble, Chuck Drotar, and Mark Lennix formed the organization known as The Park in 1971, with Ruble purchasing the 13 acre site with the intention of sponsoring a series of rock concerts from July to September. Advertising for the concerts went as far north as Toledo and as far south as Lima.

The first concert was held July 10, 1971. Officials at the concert termed the crowd as “orderly.” However, friction began to form between the “Park people” and the townspeople. An underground newspaper, called The Park Press, was formed and took some political jabs at the North Baltimore Village Council. The newspaper also announced plans to establish a “Park Bail Fund” in order to help raise money for bail and legal expenses. During the July 31 concert, featuring the Allman Brothers Band, an incident involving the use of drugs was reported. The North Baltimore News received letters saying the public may be unaware of what was happening “out there” regarding the use of drugs. Others wrote saying that The News was giving The Park too much publicity by writing about all the incidents that were happening.

Anti-Park Group

The Park in ruins

Following its court-ordered closure in 1972, The Park eventually fell into ruins.

In September of 1971, Wood County Sheriff Earl Rife reported that at that particular time, he had only received three complaints regarding The Park. It was then that Rev. Tom Runyon, of the Church of Christ, formed a group known as “Concerned Citizens for a Better North Baltimore” (CCBNB) and started a campaign to prevent the rock concerts from returning the following summer. Later that month, the village council voiced their support of the anti-park group.

A rock throwing incident at the September 28 concert brought in the Metro Area Enforcement Group, of which one of the members was hit by a rock. In spite of the incident, Ruble said The Park would reopen the next year (1972). He claimed that 12 of the concerts had no major trouble. The year ended with Dan Spitler, attorney, and Sheriff Rife stating that as far as they were concerned The Park was “closed for good.”

The year 1972 started out on a bad note from the standpoint of The Park as Ruble and his wife were arrested for passing bad checks in Lima and later pleaded guilty to the charges. However, a Bowling Green publication, called The New Community Journal, stated that The Park would resume concerts in June, despite statements from Sheriff Rife that the concerts would not be permitted. Finally, in August, Wood County Common Pleas Court Judge Floyd A. Coller said The Park could open. The result was an estimated 12,000 (this number has been questioned) people flocking to the site to listen to the sounds of Bloodrock and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Another concert, scheduled for later in the month, was canceled because the top group was unavailable at the time. Other reports stated that the concert was canceled because of the numerous drug incidents.

Location of The Park today

In 2011, a brick house, pole barn, and recreation pond occupy the former site of The Park. (Photo by Bonnie Knaggs)

The end finally came in the fall of 1972 when a court injunction to close The Park was granted, thus ending the life of North Baltimore’s “mini-Woodstock”.

Comments are closed