Palmer Park’s New Life Began on Its Tennis Courts

Tennis players started a movement to save the beloved park from closing.

When Detroit was on the verge of bankruptcy, city leaders considered closing several parks because it couldn’t afford to maintain them. Palmer Park at Woodward Avenue and Six Mile Road was one of these – it could have closed if not for some dedicated neighbors.

Come out to Palmer Park on a summer evening and you’ll usually find somebody playing tennis. The movement to save the park started on these courts. When word spread that the city of Detroit might close the park, Leonora King and some of her friends decided they weren’t going to let that happen.

Pat Batcheller

“So we just got together, a bunch of tennis players, we all had a march,” says King. “And it turned out to be pretty successful to keep the park open. And we formed People for Palmer Park as a result.”

Since its formation, People for Palmer Park has been working with the city to care for the property and provide recreational programs. The group’s board president, Rochelle Lento, says the goal is to offer healthy activities for adults and children.

“We do yoga classes once a week, tai chi, we have tennis lessons for kids, and adults on the tennis courts,” says Lento.

Leonora King, who helped organize the effort to save Palmer Park, now runs a children’s tennis academy. She says she has about a hundred students and loves teaching them the game. She even teaches a few life skills such as teamwork and sportsmanship. “You have to learn how to get along with others, how to be fair, and all those good qualities it takes to be a good person,” says King. 

When she isn’t teaching her students, she finds time to get in a game herself with a few of her friends. “We stay out here as long as we possibly can, until we can’t see the balls anymore,” King says. She adds that they could play longer if the lights around the tennis courts worked. But they don’t, and it would be the city’s job to fix them.

Pat Batcheller

Brad Dick is the director of Detroit’s General Services Department. He says new lights are part of the plan. “The tennis courts are getting resurfaced also,” says Dick. “There’s talk of long-term shrinking the courts because they’re always used. But we’re definitely going to resurface them, put some new fencing up.”

Since Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, Dick says there’s more money to cut the grass and pick up trash at more than 300 public parks. Funding from the private sector has helped, too. Home Depot, for example, provided funds and materials for Palmer Park’s urban garden.

Lindsay Page manages the garden and the volunteers who planted it. She says it’s drawn a lot of attention to the park. “So people see this, they don’t know exactly what it is, until they come up into the garden, and they ask me what are you doing here? So it really just gets people out of their cars and into the park to see what’s going on,” says Page.

Pat Batcheller

Another thing people see, just a stone’s throw from the urban garden, is Palmer Park’s splash pad, a summertime favorite with kids. Eric Allen, 12, says it means a lot to have something fun to do. “I think it’s important to the community, where kids can actually take a break on a hot day, come up here and have fun,” says Allen. “Or in the summertime, when there’s no school, they have some activities to do outside of school.” 

Barbara Barefield, People for Palmer Park

The splash pad is power washed daily, according to the city’s general services director, Brad Dick. He also says some other improvements are in the works at Palmer Park. “The building behind (the splash pad), we’re going to be turning it into a community center, we’re going to install wi-fi here. People can play music outside if they want to,” says Dick. 

Palmer Park users have also said they want to see permanent bathrooms. Dick says the city plans to renovate restrooms near the splash pad and the tennis courts, where the movement to save Palmer Park began, and where kids in Leonora King’s tennis academy could play for years to come.

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  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.