Joyland Park

Old Joyland Park is gone, but growth is giving us a ride

By Don Edwards
Sunday, September 19, 2004

When I drive by the tiny parking lot at Short and Market streets, I can look up in the air and see a younger me walking around a newsroom with colleagues who are gone now.  On that tiny lot was where the old Herald-Leader building stood when I began working for the newspaper.  It was just behind the-courthouse (now the Lexington History Museum).

When I pass the downtown Lexington Library, I still see the old Phoenix Hotel that once stood there.  Across the street at the Justice Center, I still see Brandy's Restaurant and the Zebra Lounge and Turf Bar.  When Main and Limestone was the center of town, lounging on the corner was Smiley Pete, the town dog.  Back then, Lexington was still small enough to have a town dog.

If you needed to find a public official, a likely place to look was the old Levas Restaurant.

That's what happens in your 60s when your past is longer than your future.

But there are things about the new Lexington I like:

The diversity. If you want Cuban or Korean or Mediterranean or Thai food -- or even a hamburger made of buffalo -- you can get it.  In the old Lexington, diversity was one Chinese restaurant called Wing's Tea House.

The new and enlarged medical facilities with all their high-tech gadgets.  It's great to go in for cataract surgery and be out in 30 minutes and go home.  As you get older, such places mean more to you.

The kids.  There are more of them than ever in Lexington and they give the place energy and a sense of future life -- although it seems like they begin working on their rsums by the third grade and are involved in more organized activities than many adults.

Keeneland Race Course.  It's larger and more of a tourist trap than ever, but still has enough beauty and tradition to be a one-of-a-kind charmer and may be the best-looking track in the country.

The whole new East Lexington that is centered around Hamburg Pavillion.  Each time I'm out there, I see something that's just been built.  After years of southside suburban growth, the city is becoming more balanced.

The surrounding countryside.  There is less of it than ever, but what's left of the horse country is unique and beautiful.  You can still cross the Kentucky River on the Valley View ferry and there's nothing like driving in the fox-hunting country in fall when the leaves are changing color (although these days more coyotes than foxes have the hounds baying).

Farmers Market.  It's great to be able to buy fresh, home-grown meat and veggies and herbs and flowers.  Lexington still feels like a farm town at the market.

And there are some things I don't like:

The traffic.  It's grueling.  If the symbol of old Lexington was a horse and a four-plank fence, the symbol of the new is somebody in an SUV talking on a cell phone.  The lines of traffic are so long that you're tempted to make better time by walking across the car roofs while the autos squat and drip their oil.

The pace.  It's faster than ever.  The old Lexington was much slower but you could get across town in 15 minutes.  Maybe part of it is because there was less town to get across.

The anonymity.  The old Lexington was a place where you went to dinner and always saw someone you knew.

Change is inevitable.  The struggle is over how it's executed.  One of Lexington's failings was the tearing down of so many beautiful old homes to replace them with nothing better than a parking lot or convenience store.

Triumphs include Victorian Square and the restoration of the Lexington Opera House.

But I still miss the old Joyland Park on Paris Road with its rickety, wooden roller coaster called the Wildcat.

Come to think of it, that's what I really want: one more ride on the Wildcat when Lexington and I were both a lot younger.

Don Edwards is a retired Herald-Leader columnist who wrote a column from 1979 to 2001. Reach him at (859) 266-4221 or at