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CASINO BEACH HISTORY History

The sand along Lake Worth holds a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s. The shoreline is full of  memories of laughter, dancing, and good times. Memories began rolling in 1916 when the City of Fort Worth saw the land along the shore as a viable swimming hole and bathing beach. Click the decades below to read about Casino Beach through the years.

1920’S
News spread about the municipal beach and by the 1920’s, the beach was a huge attraction and brought people from all over the south to spend their hot Texas afternoons bathing on the shore of what is now known as ‘Casino Beach’.

In 1927, after seeing the volume of people who were attracted to the beach, a group of entrepreneurs saw the potential for this land and developed a plan to create the largest amusement park in Texas. The company leased the land and built a playground, which included: rides, a boardwalk, bathhouse, swimming area, and a large ballroom, Casino Park was born.

Casino Park was known for having the largest rollercoaster in the southwest, “The Thriller,” as well as other small roller coasters and small trains for children to ride. This quickly turned the local swimming hole into a destination spot for people everywhere. There was a boardwalk full of concessions, merry-go-rounds and games for children of all ages.

In its second season, high winds during a storm started a fire that burned the ballroom, bathhouse and many concessions. The contractors were awarded insurance money and quickly began rebuilding. The park reopened in June 1930, and despite the Great Depression, people still flocked to Casino Park for their entertainment.

Swimmers at Casino Beach late 1920′s-30s

1930’S
Through the 1930s many nightclubs opened along Jacksboro Highway, but the Casino Ballroom was in a class of its own. For starts, it had bouncers, one of which was a former heavy weight boxer, Sully Montgomery, to ensure there was no fighting at the ballroom. The dancehall was over 11,000 square feet and hosted some of the biggest bands across the country. Patrons would dance and get a hot meal for $2. Gentleman had to wear a coat and tie while the ladies were required to wear dresses, and couples danced around the solid-oak dance floor. The ballroom dance floor is where the older generation made most of their long-lasting memories.

Interior of Casino Ballroom

Interior of Casino Ballroom

1940’S
A big tradition at Casino Park was the annual beauty pageant on the 4th of July. This attracted thousands to picnic and celebrate Independence Day as they watched the spectacular fireworks display over the lake. With the large crowds, on July 4th, 1940, tragedy struck when a portion of the boardwalk collapsed and injured 64 people. On that same day, a drunkard fell to his death on The Thriller as a result of standing up while the ride was moving. Sadly this accident, combined with the legal battles between Casino Park manager, George T. Smith, and the City of Fort Worth, was the beginning of the end for Casino Park.

Casino Park was in bankruptcy and the city took Smith to court for back taxes and unpaid rent. Despite the legal issues, the park continued to remain open. Unfortunately, as the years went on, the legal battle continued, and sections of the park began to be torn down. After the 4th of July boardwalk collapse, a contract was awarded for the remaining portion to be removed. The bathhouse remained, and the dancehall continued to host singers like, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Ted Weems.

Then in April 1943, a fire blazed through the beach once again and burned the bathhouse to ashes. Replacement costs were significantly higher than what was received in insurance money, so it was not rebuilt. With the bathhouse gone, the swimming beach was in jeopardy and a large liability; so in April 1947, the City of Fort Worth took it over and continued the legal battle with Mr. Smith regarding the due back taxes.

In 1948 George T. Smith retired from Casino Park and turned full ownership over to the City of Fort Worth. The city managed the property until 1949 when a plane made an emergency landing at Meacham Field, and a passenger, Jerry Starnes, decided to venture to Casino Park to see the Lake Worth Casino Ballroom that he had heard so much about. Starnes was amazed with the dilapidated condition and once again saw potential for the dusty gem. He signed a lease with the City of Fort Worth to take over Casino Beach.

Aerial View of Casino Beach in the 40′s

1950’S – 1960’S
Jerry Starnes rebuilt the boardwalk and had plans to rebuild the amusement park and concession stands, but those plans never materialized. In 1952, State Senator Keith Kelly gave a new formal opening to kick-off the park’s new “second wind.” He spoke about the memories of the old boardwalk and called attention to the new safety features of the new and improved one. They revived the bathing beach beauty contest in 1953 and the winner was awarded a 14-inch silver cup, filled with silver dollars.

Unfortunately, with television gaining popularity, the demand for big bands began to decline. Starnes began his own lawsuit battles with the City of Fort Worth for back rent and unpaid concession percentages. A former financial partner for Casino Park left the Ballroom and established another large ballroom closer to downtown Fort Worth, and away from the Jacksboro Hwy, which had become known for its gangster and gambling activity. With the legal issues and decline in success, Starnes and his partners decided to sell the Ballroom.

It was remodeled in 1965 for a total of $90,000, but when rock and roll bands gained popularity, they demanded higher fees and the Ballroom had little to offer and couldn’t break even.

The Last Tango
The last tango at The Ballroom was January 31, 1973. People who had cherished memories at the ballroom gathered around to watch the wrecking company rip away portions of the roof. Jerry Starnes was among the crowd to watch the debris fall, and as the old dance floor was covered in dirt, he and his partner Reba Smith, danced the last dance at the Casino. This dance was in honor of the thousands of couples who had danced many dances over the years.

Dancing in the Casino Ballroom

Now while the old history is remembered, Casino Beach Partners is excited to begin a new chapter in the Casino Beach history books. Our planned development includes; a Ferris Wheel, riverboat, boardwalk, restaurants, marina, and a brand new Casino Beach Hall. We want to create and enhance the economic growth in and around Lake Worth, while creating an outdoor experience for the residents and visitors of the Lake Worth community.

References:
Klein, Kenneth, NW Times-Record, Published Mar.13, 20, & 27, 2003
Fort Worth Star Telegram

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