Grant Park Oral History Project

Chuck Baker's Grant Park Memories

Neighborhood History
Park Itself

Swimming pool, slides - lessons - enormous bathhouse - Lake, ducks, row boats. . . Old zoo "new elephant house," "Round House," cyclorama, main picnic pavilion. The Pavilion at Park Avenue, Roller skating all over, Ball fields, amateur baseball on Sunday afternoon, ladies softball in the evenings, neighborhood picnics and ball games on the southeast corner field. The roar of the lions windblown south to the Wellswood project. The old drinking fountains that were activated by a hard pedal. The first little train that circled near the elephant house.

Neighborhood
Cherokee theater, Miss Georgia Milk Store "spinning wheels" compared to Atlanta Dairies "wing dings," Drug Stores -- also sundaes & banana splits. The bus stop at Cherokee & Milledge where we waited for my dad. Neighborhood grocery stores and delivery bikes with big baskets & small front wheels.


“Miss Georgia” on Boulevard
One of the major dairies in the Atlanta area in the 50’s was Georgia Milk Producers whose product was sold under the “Miss Georgia” label. One thing that distinguished them from the competition was their neighborhood retail stores that had a huge variety of fresh ice cream as well as bottles of milk. Think of these stores as the Baskin & Robbins of their time--- or a drug store soda fountain that exclusively sold ice cream concoctions.

The d├ęcor was simple and the furnishings included the round tables and metal chairs typical with the metal wire twisted into an interesting and effective time. Miss Georgia was not a typical "soda” shop. I never ordered an ice cream “soda” there, and I don’t remember them being on the menu. You certainly could not order soda water or even a Coca-Cola. Two coolers were prominent, one of them cold enough to keep the large containers of ice cream at the proper temperature.
The focal point of the menu at Miss Georgia was the “Spinning Wheel," a milkshake derived from fresh scoops of ice cream, fresh milk, and flavoring.

The basic menu must have listed about two dozen flavor choices. It was served in a tall glass, large enough to hold the contents of one of the aluminum milkshake machine containers in which it was freshly prepared. People and kids who grew up (and there were enough calories in a Spinning Wheel to expedite the growing process) were appalled in the 60’s when McDonald’s came on the scene with its soft ice cream, so called "milkshakes" that resembled the milkshakes at Dairy Queen. Anyone used to a genuine article from a soda fountain knows there is no comparison in taste or consistency between a real milkshake and the soft ice cream version.

The “Spinning Wheel” had a rival, which was not to be taken likely. Atlanta Dairies was headquartered on Memorial Drive between Boulevard and Moreland Avenue. At that site was what I remember as a drive-up location with their version of a soda fountain and a milkshake that was billed as a “Wing Ding.” I only knew a few people who preferred a WingDing to a Spinning Wheel. I can’t remember if a WingDing was cheaper or how it compared in size, but I do recall it was served in a paper cup unlike the classic Spinning Wheel.

A staple of course was the ice cream cone. Single scoop and double scoops, but I can attest to a greater serving than that. An option (for my Grandma usually) was a scoop in a paper cup, which was a less drippy option. In those days the cup was accompanied by a flat wooden “spoon.” I don’t think “plastic” was in the average person’s vocabulary; the notion of a plastic spoon didn’t exist.

If you were ready for a bigger treat than a cone but a milkshake didn’t suit your fancy, then a sundae was the choice. A typical sundae would be a couple of scoops of ice cream topped with strawberries, whipped cream and a cherry. That was my favorite. They were not fresh strawberries but some concoction that was prepared especially as a sundae topping (I think you can still find something similar today on the shelf at the supermarket.) Pineapple topping was another popular choice, but undoubtedly the popular favorite variety was the chocolate fudge sundae that came with a thick chocolate sauce, nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.

The ultimate selection at Miss Georgia (as it was in most soda fountains of the 50’s) was the banana split. The Miss Georgia version was served in a purpose-designed dish. The formula included a scoop of vanilla, a scoop of chocolate, and a scoop of strawberry ice cream. Each scoop was slathered with one of the sundae toppings. My memory is that nuts were sprinkled over the whole thing along with a thin trail of chocolate syrup. The last layer was a thick coating of fresh whipped cream and a gratuitous cherry. The whipped cream was added from a special pressured metal container about the size of a quart bottle. What Miss Georgia did by way of prepping the whipped cream is a mystery, but the customer was confident that it was fresh.

People who lived in the neighborhood didn’t need a sweet tooth to visit the store. It was your destination for fresh milk. The quart milk bottle was a ubiquitous presence in the kitchen of any home with children. In the early 50’s the most common sale was the quart bottle of “pasteurized” milk. What distinguished it from modern milk was that the cream in the milk rose to the top and took up most of the neck of the bottle.

The milk bottle itself came in one of two varieties, and Miss Georgia converted to the modern version with four flat sides and corners rounded off to create the final shape. It took up less space in the refrigerator than the traditional bottle. Homogenized milk with the cream spread throughout the bottle and never rising to the top was a development of the 50’s.

At Miss Georgia you could also choose buttermilk and chocolate milk. There were smaller sizes (pint and half-pint) to choose from in the cooler. There was probably skim milk available too, but as a kid I didn’t know anyone who drank skim milk or for what use it possibly could have.

My family did not routinely make a milk purchase at the Miss Georgia store for the simple reason that we were their customers on a home delivery route. The milkman delivered at least twice a week, picked up the empty bottles and replaced them with a pre-determined standing order. If for some reason my mother wanted something different, a simple hand-written message left in one of the empty bottles was sufficient notice.

The Miss Georgia store was on the corner of Boulevard and (a side street, not sure which one). Off street parking did not exist. You parked at the curb on the west side of Boulevard or along (the side street) on the north side of the store. When my family was out and about in the family sedan we were more apt to stop at the Lakewood Heights location or the Peachtree Battle location, both of which had ample off street parking.

“Water”

In the 50’s there were three principle ways a young boy would encounter water in Grant Park: the lake, the swimming pools, and water fountains.

In some ways the least interesting but most intriguing water in the park was the dirty, murky water that filled the lake south of the Roundhouse. It seemed that the lake stretched in a long and narrow fashion about half the distance from the Roundhouse to Atlanta Avenue; the other half contained the swimming pools.

There were rowboats for rent. Paddling around the lake in a rowboat was not a popular pastime, and it was certainly beyond the scope of imagination to think of the lake as a romantic setting for a young man and his girlfriend. There was certainly nothing to see or explore differently from a rowboat than from a leisurely stroll on the sidewalk that made up the perimeter of the lake. My father was never one to exhibit his manly prowess by rowing the family on a lake top excursion. I was never quite sure how deep the water was, but I guess it was probably not much more than four feet. The water was too dirty to see the bottom at any depth.

The ducks seemed to own the lake. I have no idea if the zookeepers ever left food for them, but they were certainly busy gobbling up the food that the public gave them. It was not uncommon for a kid to eagerly share his bag of popcorn or peanuts. The picnic bread ends and remains of sandwiches were certainly more entertainingly disposed of with the ducks than by throwing them in the trashcan. The ducks wandered the narrow banks of the lake and the sidewalks. The quacking of the ducks was a sound inevitably equated with a trip to the park. Occasionally they would show off in the water and you could throw your popcorn kernels or bread pieces on the water and watch the ducks go after it.

Street lamps surrounded the lake as I recall, but I don’t have any personal memories of the lake after dark and I was much too young for romantic images even in the realm of my imagination.

The swimming pools were huge. It was the only place I ever saw where the children’s pool was a big as the adult pool. However, a distinction must be drawn between the Children’s pool at Grant Park the sort of “kiddie” or “toddlers” shallow pool of the contemporary aquatic center. At Grant Park the pool was a constant, approximate three feet deep and not suitable for infants or small children.

The two pools were separated by a concrete wall and had separate pumping, draining, and filtering systems. Both pools had two distinguished features. In the children’s pool they were slides. One of them was the approximate size of a normal playground slide. The other slide was three or four times as tall and took quite an effort to climb to the top and then the daring to seek the bottom. I don’t think that it would have been safe to erect a slide that tall on a playground. The speed would have been so great at the bottom that the child would surely have risked breaking or severely spraining a limb when contacting the ground.
However, in the swimming pool there was three feet of water to cushion the impact of the boldest and bravest of sliders.

Many kids brought their inner tubes to the pool for added fun and frolic. In the 50’s an inner tube was required for every automobile tire. Punctures required repairing the tube, not the tire itself. It was not unusual form for someone to purchase a new set of tubes to go along with an expensive set of new tires. Why risk the failure of one of perhaps half a dozen tube patches and run the risk of ruining a brand new tire?

Inner tubes were easy to store in the trunk of the car, and they were certainly light enough to carry a few blocks if you walked. Air was readily available at the local service station, although a hand pump (or bicycle pump) would suffice.

My first time down the slide I was very much the traditionalist sitting up erectly. Of course you could lie back extending your arms and hit the water in a horizontal fashion. A headfirst slide with arms extended was also a thrilling version. For some odd reason I don’t ever recall sliding down headfirst upon my back with my arms by my side, but surely there must have been others that enjoyed that version too.

As a child I had limited experience with the adult pool. But I will confess that at the age of 11 or 12 I was enrolled in a Red Cross swimming class in the adult pool that was taught by the Senior Life Guard. He was a very good teacher but I was an inept student, and never earned the certificate that would have been mine upon successful completion. Let’s say I completed the course unsuccessfully, with fear and trepidation.

From that summer and from simple observation, I can comment on the two features in the adult pool. One was a platform not far from the north end of the pool. It was a place to swim from, dive and jump from, and lie down and bask in the sun. Out in the middle of this huge pool was an elevated platform that you could climb up on a ladder. It was a square structure and had several diving boards attached. (There may have been a diving board attached to the other platform, but I’m not sure one way or another.)

On the east side of the pool was the bathhouse. The men’s section extended along side the adult pool, the women’s section beside the children’s pool. To a kid it seemed enormous. You paid your modest fee (probably a quarter) and received a big wire basket and a key on an elastic chain. The basked was plenty big to hold shoes and summer attire. You secured the basket and took the key with you. The changing area was covered, but with a roof structure that let plenty of daylight in and kept summer showers outside; it had a feeling of openness, yet being inside at the same time. The rest room facilities in the bathhouses were only available to those who paid for bathhouse privileges.

It would be impossible to recreate the look and feel of the old pools at Grant Park. Twenty-first century safety standards would never permit you to open a swimming pool without a childproof fence barrier. There was not even a picket fence separating the swimming pool from the rest of the park. The wide sidewalk that surrounded the pool was without any kind of railing between it and the deep water of the adult pool. An unattended child or a drunk could have tumbled in quite easily, and who is to say it never happened. It is fair to say that an unattended child or a “public” drunk were a seldom if ever seen sight in the Grant Park of the 50’s.

Even when the pools were emptied after the summer swimming season, a hazard persisted by modern standards. Many a time, I skated on the sidewalk around the pool. An errant skater than went through the grass perimeter of the pool would have found a precipitous drop to the unfriendly concrete that lined the pool.

The pools were lit for swimming at night, but I don’t know how late they were open or how many nights a week. There were floodlights on the diving platform, and street lamps around the perimeter. Surely there must have been a few underwater lamps near the bathhouses but I don’t know for sure.

Water fountains were strategically placed throughout the park. You would expect to find them near the Roundhouse, Cyclorama, zoo, ball fields, and tennis courts. But I seem to recall them isolated near the picnic pavilions and the other odd place or two.

They all had an ornamental metal base painted a dark green. The pedal that activated it took quite a bit of pressure, and sometimes children would stand on it with both feet to make it work. The water was not chilled, but came directly from the Atlanta Water Works at whatever temperature Mother Nature provided. The basins were shiny chrome. If you looked directly into the basin it was not unlike a fun house mirror effect.

A popular challenge was to apply one or more fingers to the water source to see how big an arc of water you could spray into the distance. Just as often the effort would result in a thoroughly soaked shirtfront.

Remembering the context of the 50’s, there was one different characteristic about the Grant Park water fountains compared to the public drinking fountains found over most of Atlanta. There was a total absence of “White Only” signs posted at the fountain. The explanation for their lack is all too obvious. The whole of Grant Park was “White Only.” There were no blacks in the picnic areas, the zoo, or the swimming pools. The “White Only” signs would have been superfluous at the water fountains.