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Old Chicago - Bolingbrook, Illinois

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Desolate Angel
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« Reply #45 on: November 22, 2010, 12:36:08 am »

Old Chicago
Bolingbrook, Illinois
How Did It Happen:  The Old Chicago Story

This article was originally printed in the Met on April 17, 1986

 

The year of 1973

In June of 1973, Robert Brindle brings a watercolor print of his proposed Old Chicago Towne to the Bolingbrook plan commission.

He proposes a 345,000 square foot complex that will include outdoor-type amusement rides ringed by stores. He promises to "put Bolingbrook on the map."

"We don’t expect any of the big merchandising giants here," says Brindle. Shops are to be of the specialty variety.

Brindle was negotiating during that spring with the village.

Bolingbrook and Romeoville vied for the development and tax money it would bring. Old Chicago would be south of I-55 and thought to be rightfully Romeoville’s according to the prevailing philosophy in the southern village at that time.

Purchase of an additional 200 acres to accommodate a hotel and golf course fell through.

 

The year of 1974

 January

Brindle brings the first of his building plans to the plan commission. But the building's foundation – without approval of the village – has already been laid in the fall of 1973.

The first of many legal troubles start as Brindle is told that his foundation exceeds setback requirements in the village code.

The village refuses to issue building permits. Brindle begs for zoning and approval of plans, saying that he can’t get any money from his financial backers without approval.

A new set of hearings is called. Brindle claims he’s used to building in Southern California where they get approval as construction continues.

May

The 15-foot wide, 40 ton wall sections are lifted into place by cranes – but still without approval of the village.

 

The year of 1975

 June 5

Dome dancer Michelle Mauthe, a Bolingbrook resident, dances in the drizzle for television cameras in a commercial.

June 6

The lions arrive to take up their guardian positions at the grand entrance of Old Chicago

June 17

Ten to sixteen thousand invited guests create mammoth traffic jams to attend a pre-opening party for Old Chicago. It takes half an hour to go from Boughton Road down Route 53 to the park.

With threats from the village and mayor Nora Wipfler, Old Chicago management is told it may not open on June 21. It is too dangerous with exposed wiring and half-completed storefronts.

Village officials find themselves in a no-win position: either allow "civilians to enter the building still under construction" or turn away thousands of guests that fill the parking lot and route 53.

June 26

An estimated 15,000 attend the two-day opening ceremonies following a last minute inspection by village officials. Construction crews work around the clock to pass inspection.

July 3

Village shuts down Old Chicago for six hours because of sprinkler malfunction. There are heated discussions between the Village and Brindle.

September

Brindle says that each weekend brings an average of 50,000 visitors to Old Chicago. Traffic snarls Rt. 53 all the way to Lisle.

Attractions include the Chicago Loop (Arrow Corkscrew), Rotor, Yo-Yo, Flume, Chicago Cat (Zyklon) Windy City Flyer, plus the International Circus and Vaudeville theatre.

Two restaurants serve Old Chicago: Columbia House owned by Frank Zaucha, owner of the new Lemont truck stop: and the Old Chicago Biergarten.

October

Village and Old Chicago management are at odds again over what the village says is reneging on the fire safety pact. Some 500 people are evacuated after a fire in the trash compactor. Park management complains that the fire department was overreacting to a relativity small fire.

Miss Teenage Chicago is crowned at Old Chicago

November

Old Chicago Post Office opens replacing the Osco substation. The new post office carries it’s own distinctive postmark.

The "Comedy King Of Air" 56-year-old Jimmy Troy falls 20 feet to his death from the trapeze in an aerial accident of the Old Chicago circus.

 

The year of 1976

 January

There’s a shake-up of Old Chicago management amid rumors of bankruptcy, just six months after the grand opening.

Brindle is on the way out. New management includes IC (Illinois Central Railroad) Industries.

May

Clyde Farman becomes the new general manager. There’s a note of optimism in the air.

Annual payroll for the park is in excess of $3.5 million.

The amusement tax is bringing the village some $200,000 to $300,000 each year plus $120,000 in sales taxes. In addition, Bolingbrook gets positive PR with its name in every Old Chicago ad.

June

The story behind the Old Chicago bankruptcy is detailed, including $8 million in construction cost overruns. Never less the general manager refers to the bankruptcy as "only a technical readjustment" and announces new attractions that will put Old Chicago on the right track.

Meanwhile, he is casting a watchful eye to the north, in Gurnee where the Marriott Corporation is just opening it’s new "amusement extravaganza" (now Six Flags Great America)

December

Fayva Shoes opens in the mall, but Columbian House restaurant closes.

 

The year of 1977

February

Village manager, Reed Carlson announces that Robert Brindle, who conceived and built Old Chicago, is "Completely out of the picture now."

Control of the giant complex now rests completely with IC Industries. That conglomerates representatives meet with retail merchants at Old Chicago and unveil plans for a major revamp of the amusement park area.

April

Old Chicago donates space to the Fountindale Theater Project, the local amateur theater group, to perform plays.

Summer

Opening hours are shifted. Features are added to attract more people, including psychic fairs, battle of the drums competition, graduation nights, family nights, antique shows, car and cycle shows, The Auccopolco High Diving Team, and the "Human Torch" who literally sets himself on fire.

July

The Bolingbrook Jaycees stage their third annual fireworks display at Old Chicago, accompanied by parachuters and midget racers.

Billed under the headlines of "Public Executions at Old Chicago" a desperate public relations gimmick promotes celebration of Bastille Day at the park with fun shows featuring "the rack", cat-o-nine-tails and other antique torture devices.

August

A new position is created that of "mall manager." He is Joseph Viliack, not to be confused with the new general manager, Cleveland Smith, of Wynne Enterprises, called in to revitalize and rehab, not to mention put more amusement into the amusement park. The mall manager’s mission: fill up the shop fronts.

Hollywood movie director Brian DePalma becomes the first person to try to demolish Old Chicago. While shooting a scene for his film "The Fury." DePalma and his special effects crews send a part of a ride (the paratrooper) crashing through the window of the Biergarten. Extras in the movie include several Bolingbrook residents who may be seen if you look closely at the two minute sequence that immortalizes Old Chicago in film.

September

Deejays John Landecker, Steve King and Bob Sirott host part of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon at Old Chicago. Some $27,000 is raised at the park alone.

October

Old Chicago hosts the Pepsi Challenge, one of the first locations in the Chicago area.

November

The Fun Factory, a multi-level super play area for younger children, with it’s own separate admission fee and entrance opens as part of a $6 million park improvement program.

Also included in the improvements are colorful sound baffles hung under the dome to help prevent the deafening unpleasant noise of outdoor amusement rides operating indoors.

New rides include the Screamer and Barnstormer airplane thrill ride plus a laser light show.

 

The Year Of 1978

January

Following the $6 million revitalization of the amusement area, the mall undergoes new "zoning" to group specialty shops together under eight new themes.

May

The assessed valuation of Old Chicago is reduced by the states Property Tax Appeal Board, from $6.6 million to $4 million.

The reduction stems from an appeal by the owners that they are just barely surviving.

The tax reduction might help businesses, but local taxing bodies, especially the Valley View school district, is expected to be hit severely by the tax cut, and the district may take legal recourse.

Rumors also circulate that (the first) buyer’s negotiating for the purchase and rehab cost of $40 million.
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