Today, Roosevelt Park is a quiet, green space with mature trees, playing fields, gardens, a recreation center, and a community skate park. The park dates back to the late nineteenth century when it was known as West Park. In 1920, a year after it was incorporated into the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks system, the site was rededicated as Roosevelt Park.
A large part of the park was for many years completely under water and served as an important reservoir for North Baltimore. When the Jones Falls Expressway was built during the 1960s and 1970s, the extra dirt was used to fill in the reservoir. Initially the city planned to turn the filled in reservoir into a department of Aviation heliport, but public outcry forced them to retract the project.
In 1997, it was rumored that Mayor Kurt Schmoke planned to sell the eighteen acre Roosevelt Park to developers to build luxury condominiums and turn the recreation center—an important community meeting space for residents since 1911—into a PAL (Police Athletic League). The mayor himself would not comment on the plan, but many Hampden residents were nevertheless worried about the future of the park and its aging recreation center.
In response, Hampden resident Allen Hicks founded a community action group called the Friends of Roosevelt Park (FRP). During a media event in 2001, more than 500 Hampden residents held hands in a giant circle around the park, protesting the city’s intentions. Additionally, the FRP gathered 1,000 signatures for a petition and reached out to the 42nd Maryland District representatives for assistance in the campaign. Additionally, the Knott Foundation provided the initial funding for a monthly newsletter.
Over the next several years the Friends of Roosevelt Park held many public meetings to determine what the people liked and did not like about Roosevelt Park. They also met with city officials, budget experts, outside consultants and the Baltimore Development Corporations (through its participation in the Baltimore Main Street program). These meetings led to the creation of a master plan for Roosevelt Park in 2003, including expanded public gardens, new playing fields, a skate park, a $700,000 renovation of the Roosevelt Park recreation center, a $2 million swimming pool complex, $100,000 for a new children’s playground, and a $500,000 bond issue on the election ballot.