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The earliest mention of Manly’s Ivanhoe Park is from January 1871, when the businessman W H Wardle erected a large pavilion left over from the Intercolonial Exhibition held in Sydney the previous year. The pavilion was used for dances, picnics and church outings in the 1870s.  It is not known when the name Ivanhoe Park was first used, or who named it. It is possible that Henry Gilbert Smith, the founder of Manly, chose the name – Ivanhoe is a novel by Sir Walter Scott that had associations with the midlands of England, as did Smith.
The Ivanhoe Park Hotel was erected on the land in 1875, and in 1880 the property was bought by a hotelier, Thomas Adrian, though he failed to pay for it. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s it was used for sports and picnics. Manly Cricket Club laid down its first wicket there when the club was formed in 1878, and Manly Lawn Tennis Club was using it from 1884. 
Formalising the park
In 1883 the land came under threat from developers. Manly Council, under Mayor Charles Hayes, bought the land, then sold it to the state government at the cost price of £7,300, on condition it was made into a park. The council was appointed as trustee, and finally acquired management of the land in September 1887. On 1 December 1887 the government officially handed over control of all public reserves at Manly to the council. The council was permitted to charge for admission to part of Ivanhoe Park from that date, with the proceeds to be devoted to the improvement of the park. The hotel was used as council chambers from 1884 to 1909.
During the 1880s and 1890s, the Manly Wildflower Shows were held in Ivanhoe Park, raising hundreds of pounds for local churches and for improvements to the park, but at the cost of great damage to native flora. The first Wildflower Show was held in the pavilion in October 1881. The pavilion was demolished in 1893, and future shows were held in temporary marquees, the last in 1899.
Blasting removed some of the rocky area in the 1890s, drainage works were undertaken, and in 1904 there were further alterations and improvements. In 1910, part of the park was alienated and trees were cleared from one side of the park to make room for the Spit tram route. By 9 January 1911, the tramway from the Spit to Manly was completed, and the first tram travelled along Sydney Road via a horseshoe curve between Crescent and George streets, skirting the western and northern boundaries of Ivanhoe Park before reaching level terrain in Raglan Street, where Mrs Griffith, the wife of the Minister for Works, cut the ceremonial ribbon.
A crossing loop was laid in the park, and the tracks were laid with 10-foot (3-metre) centres to allow a one-foot clearance between the footboards of the passing cars.  The last trams ran in 1939, and the tracks were taken up, but a portion of the tramway loop is still visible.
Later additions to the park
A public meeting was called by Mayor Scharkie in 1951 to discuss a memorial to the dead of World War II, and a second meeting resulted in the construction of a memorial garden, which was named War Memorial Park.
In 1962 the council approved a £50,000 redevelopment at the oval, including a new Girl Guides and kindergarten building in Ivanhoe Park.
In 2006, the Geographic Names Board named the reserve at the western end of the park Ivanhoe Park Botanic Garden.
 G and S Champion, Manly Warringah and Pittwater 1850–1880, Manly Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society, Sydney, 1998, p 169
 G and S Champion, Early History of Manly Lawn Tennis Club, Manly Council website, Historical Articles, http://www.manly.nsw.gov.au/Historical-Articles.html, viewed 29 April 2009
 K McCarthy, The Manly Lines of the Sydney Tramway System, Sydney, Transit Press, 1995, pp 16–18