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Revisiting A few of Chicago’s Misplaced Amusement Parks

Do you have got fond childhood reminiscences of amusement parks? My father all the time spoke of Riverview prefer it was nirvana. He would spin tales of his youth there: exploring the funhouse named Aladdin’s Fort, sitting within the entrance row of Shoot the Chutes along with his brother and ducking simply earlier than their automobile hit the water in order that the passengers behind them obtained soaked. The park at Western and Belmont Avenues thrilled youngsters of all ages from 1904 till it abruptly closed after the 1967 season.

I visited Riverview as soon as as a younger baby within the years earlier than it closed, however the amusement park I keep in mind higher is the Kiddieland in Skokie. I liked driving the miniature practice known as the Hiawatha in addition to a small curler coaster—the Wild Mouse curler coaster was a bit too scary for me!

After all, neither Riverview nor any Kiddieland survives, though Gurnee’s Nice America, which opened in 1976 and was offered to Six Flags in 1984, nonetheless delights guests immediately. Right here’s a glance again at a few of the different amusement parks which have exhilarated generations of Chicagoans.

The Halfway on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893

The ferris wheel on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Photo: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-002440; C. E. Waterman, photographerThe Halfway on the World’s Columbian Exposition paired rides such because the world’s first metal Ferris wheel with shows of tradition such because the Moorish Palace. Picture: Chicago Historical past Museum, ICHi-002440; C. E. Waterman, photographer

All of it begins with the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and its bustling Halfway, which housed sights such because the world’s first steel Ferris Wheel alongside concessions, video games, and sideshow shows of cultures all over the world. (Not that the depictions have been ennobling, correct, or respectful: as an illustration, a pair of sisters from Romania performed as “Arabs” within the Moorish Palace.)

The recognition of the Halfway impressed entrepreneurs across the nation and in Chicago to attempt to replicate its success—sideshow and concessions areas at gala’s and carnivals immediately are known as “midways” after the unique on the world’s honest. As for the Ferris Wheel, it was moved to Lincoln Park, the place it starred in one of many first films on the earth. (It’s considered one of my favorite instances of Chicago on film.) It then confirmed up on the 1904 St. Louis world’s honest earlier than being dynamited and offered for scrap. In 1995, Navy Pier added a Ferris Wheel in honor of that first one. At roughly 15 tales tall, it was half the dimensions of the unique; it was changed for the Pier’s centennial in 2016.

Paul Boyton’s Water Chute

Lower than a yr after the World’s Columbian Exposition closed, its Halfway already had an imitator: Paul Boyton’s Water Chute, which opened on July 4, 1894 at 63rd Avenue and Drexel Avenue, simply south of the Halfway. It was America’s first trendy amusement park, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Whereas earlier leisure parks or pleasure gardens relied on pure options to draw guests, Boyton launched a Shoot the Chute water journey in an try to duplicate the success of the Ferris Wheel. A showman and aquatic stuntman, Boyton opened a park on Coney Island the following yr.

Sans Souci

Sans Souci Park in Chicago in 1908. Photo: DN-0006357, Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History MuseumSans Souci was changed by a short-lived Frank Lloyd Wright undertaking. Picture: DN-0006357, Chicago Every day Information assortment, Chicago Historical past Museum

Chicago had extra amusement parks than wherever else within the nation till 1908, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, and that’s evident within the explosion of recent ones that opened across the flip of the century. Many have been short-lived, together with Luna Park, which lasted from simply 1907 to 1911 on the South Facet. Sans Souci was larger and existed for just a bit longer, however its abortive afterlife is fascinating.

Sans Souci was positioned simply off the Halfway Plaisance, which had hosted the 1893 Halfway. Impressed by the visitors going to a beer backyard, streetcar operators purchased the land in 1899 and expanded it right into a park with entertainments resembling gardens, fountains, and reside music, according to the web site Jazz Age Chicago. Extra vigorous sights resembling curler coasters and a skating rink have been added in response to competitors from White Metropolis (see beneath), however the park nonetheless didn’t survive.

In 1914, Frank Lloyd Wright reworked it into Midway Gardens, an out of doors efficiency house and restaurant the place you possibly can watch ballet or take heed to a symphony. (Up on the North Shore, Ravinia equally started off as a pleasure floor that additionally featured music.)  Wright participated in each facet of the design, even the dishware and murals. (You’ll be able to see extra pictures of Halfway Gardens in my Chicago’s South Side, beginning at 20:45.) When the enterprise was purchased two years in by a brewery, Wright was outraged by the corporate’s alterations. Prohibition put an finish to it, and it was demolished in 1929 after stints as a automobile wash, amongst different issues.

Riverview Park

William Schmidt at his amusement park Riverview in Chicago. Photo: ST-90004580-0003, Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History MuseumWilliam Schmidt, the proprietor of Riverview, seems out over the park in 1967. ST-90004580-0003, Chicago Solar-Instances assortment, Chicago Historical past Museum

The park my father adored is probably the best-known within the Chicago space—WTTW even has a complete documentary about it which you can stream. It had such famed rides because the Bobs curler coaster and a tunnel of affection, in addition to a darkish aspect: sideshows that made spectacles of disabled folks or debased African Individuals. We’ll allow you to watch the documentary for far more element.

White Metropolis

White City amusement park in Chicago in 1905 or 1906. Photo: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-070022; Charles R. Clark, photographerWhite Metropolis’s “Electrical Tower” was 300 ft tall and had 20,000 lightbulbs. Picture: Chicago Historical past Museum, ICHi-070022; Charles R. Clark, photographer

Sans Souci’s demise was due partially to the opening of White Metropolis close by, on property that’s now Parkway Gardens, the place Michelle Obama spent her adolescence. Opened in 1905, it was a bigger park with extra rides and sights, together with its well-known “Electrical Tower,” whose 300 ft of top was illuminated by 20,000 lightbulbs. (You’ll be able to see footage of White Metropolis in my Chicago’s South Side, beginning at 20:57.)

Whereas the identify was a reference to the white buildings of the World’s Columbian Exposition, it could as nicely have referred to the clientele: shamefully, Blacks weren’t allowed. It started shuttering sights throughout the Nice Melancholy, and by the latter half of the Thirties it had been diminished to only a dance corridor, curler rink, and a few sports activities areas earlier than closing fully, according to Jazz Age Chicago.

Cream Metropolis

The gates of Cream City in Lyons. Photo: DN-0006805, Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History MuseumCream Metropolis in Lyons was short-lived, however the suburb continued to be a spot for amusement. Picture: DN-0006805, Chicago Every day Information assortment, Chicago Historical past Museum

This amusement park, opened in 1906 within the western suburb of Lyons, is presumably the shortest-lived within the Chicago space: it burned down after just one yr, according to the Village of Lyons Historic Fee. (The close by suburb of Forest Park was additionally residence to an amusement park within the early twentieth century.) However Lyons continued to be generally known as a spot for enjoyable—and debauchery. One commentator known as it “bibulous…the chosen abode of Bacchus and Terpsichore,” according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago—aka heavy consuming, and keen on events and dancing. A 1908 vote to abolish saloons was trounced (244 to 14), whereas an eight-story tower constructed by native brewer George Hofmann that very same yr turned the centerpiece of a leisure space that included a beer backyard and different entertainments. Hofmann Tower nonetheless stands immediately.

One further attraction hosted by Lyons? A “Whoopee Coaster” constructed within the late Nineteen Twenties that allowed guests to drive their very own automobile alongside the hilly, winding picket monitor, at a most velocity of 5 miles per hour.

You’ll be able to see extra about Lyons’ historical past as a celebration city in my Chicago’s Western Suburbs starting at 9:30.

Joyland Park

Not like White Metropolis, Joyland Park in Bronzeville not solely welcomed Black Chicagoans—it was owned and operated by them. A lot smaller than Riverview or White Metropolis, at solely two acres, it had 4 rides, according to the web site Digital Analysis Library of Illinois Historical past Journal. It solely lasted from 1923 to 1925, and the land it occupied is now a part of the Illinois Institute of Expertise.


The Melrose Park Kiddieland sign. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/S JonesThe Kiddieland signal now stands outdoors the Melrose Park Library. Picture: Wikimedia Commons/S Jones

Throughout the Melancholy, Arthur Fritz purchased ponies to promote rides to youngsters within the western suburbs after he misplaced his job as a contractor. He finally established the primary Kiddieland in Melrose Park by including miniature automobiles, according to Melrose Park’s web site. He didn’t trademark the identify, resulting in copycats throughout the realm, together with the one I loved as a toddler in Skokie. (The household that purchased and improved Novelty Golf in Lincolnwood additionally owned a Kiddieland at Devon Avenue and McCormick Boulevard.) Solely the unique Kiddieland survived into the 2000s, however even it was demolished in 2010—though its colourful signal was preserved and now sits outdoors the Melrose Park Library.

You’ll be able to see footage of Kiddieland in my Chicago’s Western Suburbs starting at 1:19:29.

Santa’s Village

Imagine it or not, the concept of a Christmas-themed amusement park originated in California. Entrepreneur Glenn Holland opened two Santa’s Villages in California within the Nineteen Fifties (the primary predated Disneyland’s opening by six weeks, according to the Santa’s Village web site). He then determined to increase to the Midwest and place a Santa’s Village in East Dundee in 1959, however by no means opened any extra parks after that.

An enormous Christmas tree, puppet reveals, a reindeer barn, and a gingerbread home have been among the many entertainments. At one level the Chicago Blackhawks practiced and performed exhibition video games within the Village’s Polar Dome Ice Area, according to the park’s web site. The park closed in 2005, however was then reopened in 2010, making it the one surviving Santa’s Village within the nation—and the one extant amusement park on this checklist!

Outdated Chicago

Do you know the Chicago space was residence to a precursor to the Mall of America? Again in 1975, a mall that contained amusement park rides, a live performance venue, and circus performers opened within the southwestern suburb of Bolingbrook. Outdated Chicago solely lasted till 1980, dealing with competitors from Nice America in addition to a scarcity of huge anchor shops to attract folks to its then-remote location. It was demolished in 1986—Amazon bought the location in 2020—however the thought behind it was taken up within the Mall of America, which opened in Minnesota in 1992.

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