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Old Chicago - Bolingbrook, Illinois

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Author Topic: Old Chicago - Bolingbrook, Illinois  (Read 17969 times)
Desolate Angel
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« Reply #180 on: November 21, 2014, 09:10:38 pm »

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Desolate Angel
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« Reply #181 on: November 21, 2014, 09:11:04 pm »

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Britany Lincicum
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« Reply #182 on: April 03, 2016, 04:06:49 am »

Home » Old Chicago, Bollingbrook, Illinois 1975-1981 (Play slideshow)

Old Chicago Amusement Park, Bolingbrook, IL. (1975-1981)

Old Chicago was the world's first completely enclosed amusement park and shopping center located at 555 S. Bolingbrook Drive, Bolingbrook Illinois was open 365 days a year. It consisted of a large square building with a dome in the center. The rides and attractions (the "Old Chicago Fairgrounds") were in the center, under the dome, and the shopping area surrounded them. When it opened in 1975, part of the grand opening celebration included a tap dancer, dancing on the top of the dome.

The "Shopping Mall" had a cobblestone floor, and was designed to resemble a turn-of-the-century (20th century) street. Basically it was one long hallway that followed the entire perimeter of the building. At strategic points, there were windows where you could look out into the amusement park area. The shopping mall didn't have any large anchor stores or chain stores, only gift shops, specialty shops and snack bars.

Old Chicago seemed like an idea that couldn't fail. In retrospect, however, it's easy to see why it did. The mall consisted solely of small specialty shops and restaurants, and without any large chain stores or anchor stores, it wasn't enough of a shopping mall to attract shoppers. Once the novelty wore off, the building didn't seem to attract repeat visitors, except for those who attended special events or lived relatively nearby. Unlike an outdoor park, which can constantly update and add rides, Old Chicago was confined to the space between its walls, and it got old very quickly. It was also in a somewhat remote location, southwest of the city. The cost of operating the building year-round was probably very high. And I'm sure that when Marriott's (now Six Flags) Great America opened in 1976, it didn't help much either.

The Old Chicago Fairgrounds had "31 great rides and attractions" beneath the dome. When it opened, Old Chicago charged $1.00 for admission to the ride area (50 cents for kids), and then charged a flat fee for unlimited rides. A spiral entrance ramp led from the mall level down to the park level, where the rides were arranged in a large circle. Trees, benches and streetlights provided a park-like atmosphere.

The "Fairgrounds" had "31 great rides and attractions" all crammed into the domed center of the building. I remember being amazed that they could fit everything in. At the time it opened, Old Chicago charged $1.00 for admission to the ride area (50 cents for kids), and then charged a flat fee for unlimited rides. In addition to standard rides like the Round-up, Tilt-a-Whirl, Chicago Bobs, Scrambler, Spider, Merry-go-round, Monster of the Midway, Rotor, Antique Cars, Barnstormer, Crash of '29 (bumper cars), Enterprise, Trabant, Ferris wheel, Paratroopers, Four Seasons (dark ride), Yo-Yo, Toboggan, Screamer and the Windy City Flyer, there were two Roller Coasters (the Zyclon and the Chicago Loop) and a water ride (the Chicago Log Race).

The Fairgrounds also hosted a circus, a vaudeville theater, and a haunted house, as well as a few Kiddie rides and some games of skill and chance. Various events took place at Old Chicago from time to time. Chicago radio stations held 'back-to-school bashes and the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon had a donation "fishbowl" there, and did remote broadcasts from there during their Chicago segments.

Many rock bands, musicians and other celebrities appeared at Old Chicago. They performed in an area called the “Old Chicago Stage” which was added in 1978. The stage was placed where the Paratrooper ride stood (next to the Haunted House). The Paratrooper ride was sold instead of being moved elsewhere in the park. Here is a partial list of performers: Black Oak Arkansas - (Go Jim Dandy!), Tommy James and the Shondells, The Coasters (Alley OOP, Charlie Brown), Wild Cherry (Play that Funky Music), Willie Aimes - (Eight is Enough, Charles in Charge), Anson Williams (Potsie from Happy Days), Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Cannon (Palisades Park), Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Peter Tork and the Monkees (He was the only touring member), Jan and Dean (Surf City), Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Rip Taylor (Toupee and all), Sha-Na-Na, The Ramones (One of the original punk bands), Rex Smith, Gary ‘US’ Bonds, The Shirelles, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Hudson Brothers (The Razzle Dazzle show), Gloria Gaynor (I will Survive), The Guess Who (American Women), Rick Nelson, The Star Wars Robots (C3PO and R2D2), and Karl Wellenda.

Old Chicago didn’t fare well financially. Perhaps, without major chain stores, it wasn't enough to attract shoppers. The amusement park was too confined to attract amusement park aficionados. Old Chicago abrupt closed the amusement park in 1980 and the mall followed in 1981. The building was razed in 1986.

This map is from Old Chicago's first year of operation. Consequently, rides that were moved or added later will not be shown here.

1. Four Seasons
2. Arcade games
3. Entrance ramp
4. Shooting gallery
5. Round-Up
6. Tilt-a-Whirl
7. Chicago Bobs
8. Guess-Your-Weight
9. Chicago Loop
10. Games
11. Dunk tank
12. Scrambler
13. Chicago Log Race
14. Handwriting analysis
15. Chicago Cat
16. Spider
17. Kiddie Rides
18. Moon walk
19. Trabant
20. Paratroopers
21. Merry-go-Round
22. Snacks Concession stand
23. Rotor
24. Circus
25. Yo-Yo
26. Bumper Cars
27. Ferris Wheel
28. Haunted House
29. Games
30. Hats
31. Vaudeville Theatre

Radio Commercial Old Chicago Bolingbrook IL

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Britany Lincicum
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« Reply #183 on: April 03, 2016, 04:08:02 am »

Old Chicago was conceived by designer/builder Robert Brindle after a visit to Knott's Berry Farm in BuenaVista, California.  In June of 1973, Robert Brindle brought a watercolor print of his proposed Old Chicago Towne to the Bolingbrook plan commission.  He proposed a 345,000 square foot indoor complex that would include outdoor-type amusement rides including a roller coaster, ferris wheel, and log flume, ringed by specialty shops, boutiques, and restaurants. He promised to "put Bolingbrook on the map."

For the next year both Bolingbrook and Romeoville vied for the development and tax money it would bring.  Eventually, Bolingbrook became the location, but it would be mid-1975 before the mall opened, after many construction delays.

A pre-opening party for Old Chicago on June 17, 1975 for ten to sixteen thousand invited guests created mammoth traffic jams. It took half an hour to travel south on route 53 from Boughton Road to the mall. 

The visitors saw Chicago turn-of-the-century style architecture, a million dollars worth of memorabilia, two hundred stores and restaurants, and continuous vaudeville-type entertainment billed as the world's first indoor amusement park.  They were welcomed by the park's mascot, Charlie Baffle and enjoyed the first corkscrew roller coaster called "The Chicago Loop" and 31 other rides, including the Rotor, Yo-Yo, Flume, Chicago Cat (Zyklon), Windy City Flyer, plus the International Circus and Vaudeville theatre.
Two restaurants served Old Chicago: Columbia House owned by Frank  Zaucha, owner of the Lemont truck stop and the Old Chicago Biergarten.

A contest was held for a young lady to tap dance on top of the dome on opening day.  The winner, Michelle Mauthe, was featured in an Old Chicago commercial, filmed that day in high winds by a cameraman inside a helicopter. 
The first few months after opening the mall hosted 50,000 guests per weekend. 

To keep visitors coming, couples were married while riding the coaster, Vincent Price was featured when the Haunted House opened, and Miss Teenage Chicago was crowned at Old Chicago.  Additionally, a post office opened and letters received an Old Chicago postmark.

In November of 1975, the "Comedy King of Air," 56-year old Jimmy Troy fell 20 feet to  his death from the trapeze in an aerial accident at the Old Chicago Circus.

Only six months after opening, the complex ran into financial troubles due to construction cost overruns.  Additionally, the park was hurt by a lack of anchor stores to bring in local repeat shoppers, and the opening of a competing amusement park in the same general region, which resulted in the mall being on the verge of bankruptcy.

In 1977 Old Chicago donated space to the Fountaindale Theater Project, the local amateur theater group, to perform plays.  In the summer, opening hours were shifted and more features were 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 set himself on fire.

Summer concerts, billed as Star-fest, featured such notable entertainers as:  Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Chuck Berry, Black Oak Arkansas, Willie Aames (from Eight is Enough), Dr. Hook, Commander Cody, Wild Cherry, and the Four Tops.

In July, the Bolingbrook Jaycees stage their third annual fireworks display at Old Chicago, accompanied by parachuters and midget racers.  Also in July, billed under the headlines of "Public Executions at Old Chicago" a desperate public relations gimmick promoted the celebration of Bastille Day at the park with fun shows featuring "the rack", cat-o-nine-tails and other antique torture devices.

In August, Hollywood movie director Brian DePalma became the first person to try to demolish Old Chicago. While shooting a scene for his film "The Fury." DePalma and his special effects crews sent 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.

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

In October, Old Chicago hosted the Pepsi Challenge, one of the first locations in the Chicago area and in November, opened The Fun Factory, a multi-level super play area for younger children, with its own separate admission fee and entrance as part of a $6 million park improvement program.  The improvement program also included colorful sound baffles hung under the dome to help prevent the deafening, unpleasant noise of outdoor amusement rides operating indoors.  New rides including the Screamer and Barnstormer airplane thrill ride plus a laser light show were added.

Unfortunately, all this was not enough to keep Old Chicago operating without shortfalls, and by 1978, the mall began closing early on Mondays and Tuesdays. 
While Old Chicago put Bolingbrook on the map, after numerous setbacks, the park closed on March 17, 1980, the rides were sold, and the last remaining stores left soon afterward - only five years after opening.  The famous lions in front of the door were modeled after those at the Art Institute of Chicago.  They were sold to Joseph Levy, who owned a car dealership next door to the center.  He moved them to his Skokie car dealership and painted them purple and white for Northwestern University's colors.  They were later sold to Terry Upton of McHenry, Illinois.  Plans to turn the mall into a factory outlet mall, a motion picture/TV production soundstage, a gambling casino, an international trade center, and a future spot for the 1992 World's Fair, all came to naught.  In February the Village hosted a "media event" to persuade the world that demolition of Old Chicago would be a fresh start. 

By March, piles of rubble grew along Rt. 53 just south of I-55 as Old Chicago’s walls tumbled and in April, the dome quietly sank into the sunset with absolutely no fanfare.
By the end of the month, not a trace of the former amusement park remains  - only memories.

Arena Auto Auction now sits on the site.

As an aside, the original property was farmed by the Earl Meisinger family.  He remembers being a three year old riding his tricycle across Rt. 53, a feat not possible today.

Excerpted from . . . .Bolingbrook Keeps Making History, Vol. 3, compiled by James D. Bingle, Savoring the History of Bolingbrook - A Keepsake Cookbook presented by the Bolingbrook Historic Preservation Commission, the Old Chicago Trivia courtesy of Village Clerk Carol Penning, Old Chicago Timeline from an article in The Met newspaper published April 17, 1986, and the Bolingbrook, Illinois 35th Anniversary Calendar.
Pictures courtesy of the Historic Preservation Commission archives.
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