Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Old Chicago Amusement Park, Bolingbrook, Illinois. 1975-1981

Old Chicago was the world's first completely enclosed amusement park and shopping center located at 555 S. Bolingbrook Drive, Bolingbrook, Illinois. It was open 365 days a year.
Old Chicago consisted of a large square building with a domed 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.
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.
It was amazing that they could fit everything in the small space. At the time it opened, Old Chicago charged $1.00 for admission to the amusement park (50¢ for children), and then charged a flat fee for unlimited rides. They had a small souvenir shop by the entrance to the amusement park. In addition to standard style rides (some with new names) 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. There was also a water ride called 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 Woman), Rick Nelson, The Star Wars Robots (C3PO and R2D2), and Karl Wellenda.
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, restaurants and snack bars, but didn't have an anchor or large chain stores like Marshall Field, Sears, Wards or J.C. Penny to draw in shoppers. The small stores weren't enough to make a shopping mall successful.
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. Additionally, it was also in a somewhat remote location which was 30 miles southwest of the City of Chicago. The cost of operating the building year-round was probably very high. I'm sure that when Marriott's Great America (now Six Flags Great America) opened in 1976 that's what began the downward death spiral for Old Chicago's amusement park.

Old Chicago didn’t fare well financially either. There were too many empty stores and 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.
The map below 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 


Visit our Souvenir Shop on your way out.


RADIO COMMERCIAL


Radio Commercial on WMET in 1977, for Old Chicago


VIDEOS


Old Chicago Amusement Park - Interior Footage


Old Chicago Amusement Park - Final Days

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Feb. 5, 1976: Children and teenagers use the pinball machines at the Town Arcade in Bolingbrook's Old Chicago, a combination shopping mall and indoor amusement park.












































































8 comments:

  1. What wonderful memories!! Thanks for the article Neil!!

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  2. Wow these really brought back memories . I wish they never tore the building down but atLEAST the kept the street name. I wish someone could reinvent this Old Chicago

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    Replies
    1. It has been reinvented in Minnesota: the Mall of America.

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  3. WOW! My old stomping ground!!! My sister,friends, and I used to come here just about EVERY weekend! I agree with Tricia Fontana! I think they were just a little ahead of times. I'm pretty sure they'd be a big hit today!!! At least there'd be a place to go in the winter!!!
    Good times!!!
    Kimberly Edwards

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  4. What about the disco? I spent every weekend there!

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  5. Oh, yes, I remember it well! One thing was that the entrance to the amusement park was on the back of the building, so you had to enter from the front, go through the whole mall (or technically, half it it), and then you could reach the park entrance on the back side of the perimeter. Wonder if that made a difference, that it was just a hassle to get to the fun part.

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  6. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood were here.
    Disco and funnel cake,most of all time spent with my cousin and friends.

    ReplyDelete

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