With summer approaching, our thoughts turn this week to amusement parks, particularly one that delighted generations for decades in Webster.
Willow Point Park was off Bay Road overlooking Irondequoit Bay. Like contemporaries that have been featured in previous Whatever Happened to … columns, such as Olympic Park on Scottsville Road, Long Point Park in Geneseo and Roseland Park in Canandaigua, Willow Point was a smaller, more quaint amusement park than you typically find today.
Willow Point had an early miniature-golf course and unusual attractions like archery and later, trampolines. Children loved the kiddie rides and companies held annual summer picnics there.
Teens and young adults flocked to the roller rink-slash-teen dance hall, where big-name garage bands of the 1960s performed.
The longtime park owner/operator hosted free days for children with various disabilities. A future Hollywood filmmaker as a teen made a short film about Willow Point recalling his youthful days there.
An undated photo shows Rochester nostalgia cages at
An undated photo shows Rochester nostalgia cages at Willow Point Park. (Photo: Provided)
It all began in the 1930s, when a man named Everett J. DeNeve opened the first incarnation of Willow Point Park. DeNeve and a business partner had been developing a nursery at the site, but the Great Depression killed those plans and DeNeve came up with the amusement park idea.
He built the miniature-golf course in 1934 and continued building on each year. By 1939, DeNeve sold Willow Point to Jack Garliner, the person probably most associated with the park.
Garliner added new attractions throughout the 1940s and 1950s, including a carousel, more rides, batting cages, small boats and more. A 1946 ad also mentioned tennis, volleyball and badminton.
A bingo hall was added in the ‘50s and the much-loved trampolines came in 1960. The in-ground trampolines were on the site of the discontinued archery range.
A photo of kids riding in the cars at Willow Point
A photo of kids riding in the cars at Willow Point Park. (Photo: Provided)
“You could bounce until the cows came home and never have to worry about falling off and breaking an arm,” Tom Downs of Webster posted on Facebook. “Aside from the Moon Rocket and Tilt-a-Whirl, most of the rides were small and quaint by today’s standards. But that was part of what made Willow Point Park a unique experience.”
“Free days” for blind children began in the 1950s. Garliner opened the park to the children for one day each year and provided free lunches. In a 1963 Democrat and Chronicle story, Henry Clune wrote about the event, which was to be followed later that summer by similar days for children with multiple sclerosis and those with cerebral palsy.
“I’ve had a lot of luck myself,” Garliner said in the Clune story. “And you know, it’s good – it’s awfully good – to think that these kids can laugh and have fun, like other kids, for a day…I wonder if you and I could laugh, if we were in their fix? Blind! Never seeing!”
Ownership of the park changed hands a few times, but Garliner continued to run Willow Point, later with help from his son-in-law, Morris Rock. ozens of people posted comments on Facebook of their Willow Point memories.
“I lived within walking distance,” Karen Miller, of Ontario, Wayne County, wrote. “Went there all the time. I think my sister and I thought it was our private amusement park.”
Patricia Carey posted how her family became reacquainted with her father’s long-estranged uncle at Willow Point. The encounter “was the beginning of a relationship between him and my family that lasted several years, until his death…If we hadn’t gone to Willow Point that day, we would never have met him.”
Garliner offered to sell Willow Point Park to the town of Webster in 1964, but voters turned down the proposal. Garliner died the following year. Joseph Schuler, who already owned Olympic Park in Chili, bought Willow Point in 1966. The park remained open for a few more years.
Rock and roll became more of an attraction, with local bands like the Invictas and national acts like Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs and Big Wheelie & the Hubcaps playing at the roller rink.
Downs, of Webster, also posted on Facebook, “The Standells played there when their hit song Dirty Water was the Number One tune in the nation. The place was mobbed.”
Some of the memories were bittersweet. Mark Peacox of San Diego posted that he went to Willow Point as a kid and later as a teen to see the bands.
“Willow Point became the IN place to be,” Peacox wrote. “A couple of years later, I was called into service by Uncle Sam – right at the height of the Viet Nam conflict. When I returned three years later, Willow Point was gone and nothing ever seemed the same again.”
Willow Point closed after Labor Day in 1968. An auction was held which “stripped it of its gaudy embellishments,” as a news account stated. The park sat vacant for years before a condominium complex was built on the site.
But the beloved park had one more “life,” if you will, when Frank LaLoggia made a short film about Willow Point in the early 1970s.
LaLoggia grew up near the park and graduated from Webster Thomas High School. He went on to a Hollywood career as a director and actor whose credits include the movies Fear no Evil and Lady in White. His early movie about Willow Point can be found on YouTube.
Alan Morrell is a Rochester-based freelance writer.