Crane Park

Crane Park photo gallery 

Once the jewel of the city park system, Crane Park must have commanded a superb view of the city when the trees on the north side of Westnedge Hill were younger. The park is situated on South Westnedge Avenue, and lies on land that originally belonged to Deacon Martin Heydenburk, a native New Yorker who had taught school and done carpentry at the Mission at Mackinac before coming to Kalamazoo. The home that he built in 1834 adjacent to what is now Crane Park remained the oldest home in the city until its demolition in 1989. Westnedge Hill was originally known as Heydenburk Hill or Deacon's Hill in his honor.

Early Beginnings

From this parcel the city purchased in 1886 the first piece of what became Crane Park, and used it for a gravel pit. Edgar A. Crane, a prominent lawyer whose lovely home still stands on Crane Avenue, above  the park, willed ten adjacent acres to the city in 1911. A few years later the city purchased additional acreage from Crane's estate.  Presumably, the park was named in his honor. He was of no known relationship to Caroline Bartlett Crane, who designed Everyman's House, which is located directly across Westnedge Avenue from the park.

Additions and Improvements

In the summer of 1915, the City Council approved a recommendation from the Parks & Boulevard Commission that the first parcel be formally attached to the other two, and thus was born Crane Park. Gradually improvements began to be made. The area was leveled out, grass was seeded, trees and shrubs were planted, and walks and driveways were constructed. During the mid to late 1930's, the park benefited from the Depression in the form of several WPA projects that poured thousands of dollars and hours of labor into adding rock walls and terraces, further filling in some low places, adding additional brick roads, walkways and some tennis courts, and constructing a comfort station and small tool house (both later demolished).

The Street in the Park

The L-shaped brick road that runs from Westnedge to Grandview, bisecting the park, has a history all its own. For decades it was known as Dingley Road, after Edward Dingley who managed the Kalamazoo Telegraph and lived in the Heydenburk house for a few years. About 1970 James Morren built a home just east of the Heydenburk house, and in 1979 or 1980, Dingley Road was renamed Betsey-Ann Place in honor of Mrs. Morren. Sometime later, after the Morrens sold the property, the road was again renamed, and is now known as Summit Place.   

Awards and Honors

In 1942 the Michigan Horticulture Society gave its annual award for landscape gardening to Crane Park. In the 1940's the park drew hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country to admire its gorgeous gardens. How did it go from gravel pit to glory? 

Frank Manzullo’s Contribution

In 1939 the city hired gardener Frank Manzullo,  a man who loved flowers and hated weeds. He was so passionate about his profession that he sometimes gardened through the night in the summertime to avoid the heat. It is not surprising, then, that the Sicilian immigrant, who had tended Chicago's Lincoln Park and gardened for the Upjohn Company, should have brought Crane Park to its high point.

Garden Plans

Manzullo, parks superintendent B. LeRoy Gilbert and Gilbert's assistant Nicholas Kik, designed the gardens using native plants to show how local homeowners might landscape their yards. All the gardens were intended to fit on a normal 60-foot-wide lot occupied by most city homes. The formal west garden with its reflecting pool at the south end and the informal  east garden, demonstrating the use of annuals and edging materials, glowed with colorful petunias, lobelia, verbena, snapdragons, alyssum, heliotrope, marigolds, and many other varieties. During World War II, Manzullo maintained a "Victory Garden" in the park. The residents of the Kalamazoo Children's Home dined in splendor on the carrots, onions, chard, tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and other vegetables that he grew there.

The Park Today

Manzullo left the city's employ in the 1950's to garden for several prominent local families. The gardens in the park were maintained at his standards for some years after his departure, but the pressure of shrinking budgets eventually forced the city to shrink the gardens as well. In 1982 the city's attempt to bulldoze shrubs and perennials created a flap among interested citizens that resulted in the formation of a volunteer committee of neighbors, garden club members and other friends who continue to participate in maintaining the park. While it might have a few more weeds than Frank Manzullo would have tolerated, the volunteers have once again made Crane Park a serene and lovely place in which to pass a pleasant summer afternoon.

Sources

History Room Subject File: Crane Park

History Room Orange Dot File: Crane Park

"Biographical Sketch of Martin Heydenburk"

"A friend of flowers [Manzullo] dies while they sleep"

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 January 1977, page B2, column 5