Summers at Deer Park

Jun 21, 2018

Summer is a busy time for city parks, especially those with swimming pools. Historian Alicia Barber tells the story of one area favorite in this episode of “Time & Place.”

Sometimes a park is just a park. But some become true community landmarks, cherished by generations. Deer Park sits along Prater Way in the heart of Sparks, Nevada. It’s not only the oldest of the city’s parks but it actually predates the city’s founding. Developers created it in 1903 as the centerpiece of a housing tract in what was then known as East Reno. And yes, there were actual deer involved—six of them, in fact, kept together in a small zoo.

East Reno became Sparks a few years later, and not long after that, Prater Way became part of the Lincoln Highway. Deer Park served as a free campground for motor tourists, and later, added a playground and a tennis court.

There had been talk of building a pool there for years, but it only became possible with the help of the Work Projects Administration, or WPA, one of the federal agencies formed to provide jobs and help rebuild the country after the Great Depression. Two pools, one full-size and a smaller one for kids, were dedicated on Memorial Day weekend of 1942, and swimming there has been a community ritual ever since.

Sparks native Les Ede spent every summer of his childhood in the late 1940s and early fifties at the Deer Park pool.

"Ten o’clock in the morning, swimming at Deer Park, you froze your tootsies off," Les Ede said. "It was cold—I mean, cold—almost like Lake Tahoe."

And then the kiddies pool, which was shallower—you’d get out of that cold pool and you’d go hit that kiddies pool and warm up.

But it wasn’t just the pool that made the park such a hit.

"Saturday nights they had some bands that played down there, and that was always a big crowd. I mean, they had clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, a regular dance band-type thing. That was before TV got real hooked on people, and people made their own music and things like that, so you had a lot of different bands," Ede said. 

Through the years, Deer Park has been the site of countless concerts, dances, picnics, parades, Easter egg hunts, and even boxing matches. The deer may be long gone, but the pool—now heated—remains, its sparkling waters beckoning each new generation to dive right in. 

Historian Alicia Barber is the editor of the website and smart phone app Reno Historical. Oral history clips for this segment were provided by the Special Collections Department of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries with the support of RTC Washoe.