Camp Lewis: Greene Park -- A Soldier Amusement Park and Social Experiment

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 1/24/2013
  • Essay 10174
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During World War I, Camp Lewis (in Pierce County, later renamed Fort Lewis) established an amusement center adjacent to the camp to divert soldiers from urban vice areas.The amusement center was named Greene Park in honor of the camp's commanding general, Henry A. Greene (1856-1921). The center opened in February 1918 and would grow to 48 concessions, including the Orpheus and Hippodrome theaters, eating places, a Skee Ball alley, a shooting gallery, and a hotel. The center drew large crowds for a year and then, with the end of the war, troops went home and businesses closed. For a few years it remained as a small village, with residents including Angelo V. Fawcett (1846-1928), the former Tacoma mayor. Today (2013) only the former hotel survives, now in service as the Lewis Army Museum.

Greene Park and the Progressive Movement

Camp Lewis was constructed in 1917 as a World War I mobilization and training camp. The 91st Division was the first to prepare there for war. Its commander, Major General Henry A. Greene, became concerned that troop training would be adversely affected by off-duty activities. He believed that the "vice-ridden" areas of Seattle were especially harmful. The city was put off limits for a short time in late 1917 to encourage it to rid itself of prostitution and gambling.

Major General Greene’s anti-vice actions were part of a larger military acceptance of the tenets of the Progressive Movement. The war was viewed as an opportunity to improve men's morals and to educate them. To provide a clean, wholesome alternative, Major General Greene worked with community and business leaders to develop a large amusement park across the Pacific Highway (today I-5) from the main cantonment. A 100-acre site on Camp Lewis was set aside for this amusement center, which would have no games of chance and be otherwise free of activities that were deemed "vice."

On October 22, 1917, Seattle and Tacoma business leaders formed the Camp Lewis Amusement Company. The company sold stock and obtained bank loans to construct the buildings to house restaurants, stores, and amusements. The total cost would be $900,000. Concessions in the park were leased to local business people, with payment set as a percentage of their gross sales. The Camp Lewis Amusement Company hired distinguished Spokane architects Archibald Rigg (1878-1959) and Roland Vantyne (1886-1938) to design the amusement park. They produced a plan in November 1917 that included about 200 buildings (all in Swiss-chalet style), amusement rides, and a full-size replica of the Statue of Liberty.

On December 2, 1917, Pratt and Watson Contractors of Tacoma started construction on the first 35 buildings. However, work was delayed when they had difficulty finding laborers, due to so many men having been drafted or having volunteered to join the military. Proctor Company of Tacoma functioned as the leasing company, finding tenants for the park. The amusement center never reached its 200-building goal; when completed, it had 60 buildings, no replica of the Statue of Liberty, and no rides. 

Greene Park Amusement Center

On January 30, 1918, while Major General Henry A. Greene was in France reviewing the battle situation, acting Camp Lewis commander Brigadier General Frederick Foltz (1858-1952) named the amusement center Greene Park, to honor General Greene’s substantial role in bringing it about. Greene Park had an oval shape, with a Main Street running down the middle, top to bottom. Most of the concessions were on Main Street, with a few on cross-streets A through F. In the middle of the park was C Street, and on it a footbridge carried pedestrians over the Northern Pacific railroad tracks. C Street divided Greene Park into an upper and lower area, with each having a theater, pool hall, barber shop, and eating places.  

In February 1918 the first concessions opened. On March 1, 1918, Greene Park had its formal dedication, with eight businesses in operation. They included Andrews Billiard and Pool Hall, with 50 pool tables. In the same building was Prince’s cigar stand. The Benson Hotel group of Seattle on March 12, 1918, started construction of a 560-room hotel to serve families visiting the camp and to provide officer housing, as Camp Lewis had only a commanding general’s quarters. All the other officers had to find housing in Tacoma, Olympia, and in hastily constructed cabins on American Lake.

The basement for the hotel was excavated, and then the project was abandoned, leaving a large hole in the ground. The Salvation Army stepped in and built a hotel on a different site within Greene Park. On July 23, 1918, the Salvation Army hotel and lunch room had its dedication, attended by Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919) and other noted guests. The 17 guest rooms were on the second floor, and reading and lunch rooms were on the first floor. These accommodations proved inadequate to meet the demand, so the Salvation Army built a second hotel, the Red Shield Inn, with 155 rooms and a restaurant, which opened on December 1, 1919.

Greene Park had 48 concessions, with restaurants and food stands as key features. Near the Red Shield Inn on Main Street was the Waffle House. It had 31 irons preparing heavy-cream waffles. Across the street from the Waffle House was Macy’s Restaurant, with a 50-cent lunch offered daily. The China Inn restaurant above C Street had chop suey as its specialty. A second waffle house that advertised itself as the other and homier waffle place was located on Main between D and E streets. There were also soda fountains, ice cream parlors, and fruit and produce stands. Local blue laws were not enforced, allowing the stores and amusements to remain open on Sundays.  

The park had two large Rigg and Vantyne-designed theaters in the Swiss-chalet style. The Cassady and McKee Company had the concessions for both. The 1,400-seat Victory Theater was located on Main Street between A and B streets. It showed silent movies to the accompaniment of a large organ and operated until 1923, when it was demolished.

On May 19, 1918, the Orpheus Theater opened with 1,400 seats and a stage for vaudeville performances. A company of 40 put on Broadway-type shows. The Orpheus was located in the upper Main Street area, above C Street. On September 15, 1918, it was sold to the Hippodrome Theater chain. The "Hip," as soldiers called it, featured Reta De Lue’s Famous Prettygirl Orchestra. The orchestra played a brief concert and then accompanied the vaudeville acts. The Hip had two shows nightly, and a favorite performer was Seattle’s Florence "Babe" Egan (1897-1966), a tall redhead who played the violin. In 1921, Egan went to Hollywood and played her violin during film shots to get actors in the proper mood. Next, in 1924, she formed Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads all-girl band. This nine- to 12-member women’s band became very popular on the vaudeville circuit and was one of the first to gain an international audience. On Sunday the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) held church services in the theater. A fire destroyed the Hippodrome on May 23, 1919.

A new Greene Park theater was built at the intersection of Main and C Street. This fireproof. clay-tile theater with 1,100 seats opened in May 1925. It operated until about 1932, when it was replaced by a new theater on the main Fort Lewis cantonment.     

The two pool halls, each with 50 tables, were very popular. Andrew’s Pool Hall was advertised to have the "world’s largest phonograph."  One of the busiest amusements was the Skee Ball alleys. Another popular spot was the Liberty Shooting Gallery, where soldiers got 12 shots for 25 cents. It was free if you "killed 12 Germans" by hitting all 12 targets. There were also two photography studios where soldiers could pose for pictures to send home.

More Than Mere Amusement

The amusement center had stores selling clothes and two novelty stores that sold souvenirs and everyday items. At the park’s main intersection at Main and C streets was a large drugstore, Greene Park Drugs. Above the drug store were the offices of the Greene Park dentists. Across C Street, Associated Jewelers sold watches, rings, and even clothes. Many of the concessions honored discount coupons called "Smileage." Citizens purchased the coupon books and donated them to Camp Lewis troops.    

The best known Greene Park business owner was Angelo V. Fawcett. Fawcett had served three terms as Tacoma mayor and had a small ice cream stand in his C Street bungalow off Main Street. He sold ice cream cones, candy, and stamps. Fawcett found it more relaxing than city hall, but the hours were long. He ran the stand from 6 a.m. till the 11 p.m. closing. In 1922 he became Tacoma’s mayor for the fourth time, and after leaving office in 1926 he retired to a larger home on C Street next to the Greene Park Army Bank, where he died on January 22, 1928.

During the holidays, the Greene Park merchants and the army worked together to offer special events. On June 9, 1918, the Barnes Animal Circus gave two benefit shows at Greene Park. The Fourth of July celebration included fireworks, food, athletic competitions, and entertainment. At Christmas a tree was put up by the Salvation Army, which also presented a concert. Gifts were given to all those attending.  

Greene Park employed a number of women from nearby towns. To provide a place to relax and offer rooms for those who did not want to commute, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) built a two-story clubhouse on the site. The first floor had a meeting room with a large fireplace, a cafeteria, and five sleeping rooms. On the second floor were 18 additional sleeping rooms.

While Greene Park was very successful, rumors of mismanagement and possible corruption were reported. The army investigated the Camp Lewis Amusement Company and found sufficient evidence to take over administration of the park on December 18, 1918. Greene Park also made the news for a robbery of the Army Bank on January 7, 1919. The four robbers were captured following a gun battle in the amusement center.   

Greene Park Fades Away

With the end of World War I, Camp Lewis quickly declined in population. By the spring of 1919, thousands of soldiers had been discharged. The camp's population dropped below a thousand, and Greene Park's businesses suffered. In May 1919 the shooting gallery and several other attractions went out of business. The Victory Theater, Greene Park Drug Store, post office, and some other stores remained open.

In 1920 the Salvation Army sold its Red Shield Inn to the army for $1.00, and it became the Camp Lewis Inn and later the Fort Lewis Inn, providing temporary lodging and guest rooms. In 1971 it closed, and the building became the Fort Lewis Museum. Following extensive rehabilitation in 2011 it reopened as the Lewis Army Museum and Training Facility.

In 1922, the Washington National Guard took over the smaller Salvation Army hotel, which had been closed, for use as office space. It used the facility until 1927, and the building then served two years as the Henry A. Greene Masonic Lodge before being demolished.

During the 1920s, Greene Park was a small civilian community. Residents occupied the former stores and the Young Women’s Christian Association house became apartments. A. V. Fawcett, Tacoma’s most colorful politician, lived his short retirement in his Greene Park home on C Street off Main. On June 1, 1926, a fire destroyed the Camp Lewis market and killed the proprietors, John Maas and his wife. Another serious fire in August 1928 destroyed the Greene Park tailor shop, drug store, and two blocks of other businesses.

With the establishment of Fort Lewis in 1928, the army took over the surviving buildings at Greene Park, and the homes there became army housing. In 1932, Fort Lewis engineers used the large, 200-foot by 40-foot abandoned hotel basement excavation for a swimming pool, turning it into an indoor pool by using salvaged lumber to enclose it.  

Demolition of the last surviving Greene Park buildings, with the exception of the Red Shield Inn, occurred during 1940-1941. The area was cleared for temporary World War II construction, and within Greene Park barracks, mess halls and a chapel were built.  These buildings were demolished in the mid-1990s. Today only the former Greene Park Red Shield Inn survives, serving now as the Lewis Army Museum. A Western white pine at the site of the Henry A. Greene Masonic temple is a monument to the general.


Allan H. Archambault, Fort Lewis: Images of America (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2002); Jeannie G. Pool, Peggy Gilbert and Her All-girl Band, (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008); "Amusement Park at Camp Is Named for General H.A. Greene," Bellingham Herald, January 30, 1918; "Former Mayor Busy Sells Cream Cones," The Seattle Daily Times, June 25, 1918, p. 7; "Afternoon and Evening Program at Greene Park Arranged by Army Y.M.C.A.," The Seattle Daily Times, July 4, 1918, p. 9; "Greene Park Y.W. C.A. Clubhouse Completed," The Seattle Daily Times, August 19, 1918, p. 7; "Zone Affairs In Turmoil." The Oregonian, December 14, 1918, p. 16; ”Camp Lewis Park Is Taken Over By Army”, The Bellingham Herald, December 18, 1918, p. 6; "Camp Lewis Soldiers To Have Xmas Tree Tonight," The Seattle Daily Times, December 23, 1918, p. 5; "Camp Lewis Bank Held Up; 3 Men, Woman Caught," The Seattle Daily Times, January 7, 1919, p. 1; "Fire Hits Camp Lewis," The Oregonian, May 4, 1919, p. 5; "Theater Razing Fought," The Oregonian, June 12, 1922, p. 14; "Camp Lewis Blaze Takes Two Lives," The Oregonian, June 2, 1926, p. 4; "Something Out of Nothing," The Seattle Daily Times, July 10, 1932, p.37.

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