Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Complete History of Kiddieland in Melrose Park, Illinois. 1929-2009

In 1929, the year of the Great Depression, Arthur E. Fritz, like many other Americans, found himself in financial trouble.A builder/contractor by trade, Fritz was unable to collect payment for his work. He managed to pay all of his creditors and with the little money he had left, he purchased six ponies and offered rides to children.
Fritz felt that in spite of hard times, parents still would try to save a few dimes for a little family entertainment. His pony rides soon proved to be a popular attraction that allowed parents to forget their troubles temporarily while they watched their children smile and have a little fun.


Fritz thought about how to expand his operation. Upon learning that a local newspaper was giving away gasoline-powered miniature cars to children as subscription premiums, he noted the names and addresses of the individual winners and soon followed up with offers to purchase the miniature cars. These became an additional attraction, along with the increasingly popular Pony Rides.

By the mid-30s Fritz had given his little park a name "Kiddieland." This was before the era of the Kiddieland name being used for amusement parks for young children. It was the first known use of the name "Kiddieland." However, his attempt to register the trademark failed, the name eventually was used generically in reference to the type of park he envisioned - an amusement park with rides geared primarily toward children by the nature of their size and the speed and action of the mechanical rides.
Fritz set standards for operating a safe, friendly, good-valued and clean amusement park.
Art Fritz has been credited with "launching a whole new development in the outdoor amusement industry."  By 1940, Fritz had added the German Carousel, two Miniature Steam Locomotives, the Little Auto Ride, the Roto Whip in 1938, and a Ferris Wheel in 1940. 
The 1940s brought the era of World War II and as one might expect, delayed further growth and development at Kiddieland until the post war years. Still, Fritz believed parents always found a way to bring their children out to the Park to make some memories and escape their problems of the day.

By 1950, Fritz once again was expanding his dream of the perfect place for families to bring their children to have fun and laugh. Seven kiddie rides were added to the park; the Merry-Go-Round, a hand-carved wooden carousel that greeted guests as they enter the park and the Little Dipper, a small wooden roller coaster. Several maintenance and storage buildings were constructed as well. 
By this time Fritz's daughters and their spouses, the second generation, were well involved in the operation of the park and the growth and development of the park continued throughout the 1950s. Some existing rides were replaced with others.

In 1962, the original Pony Ring was removed and the Scooters were installed in its place, along with significant additional expansion to the park. By the late 60s, several thrill rides were purchased to appeal to older children and teenagers. Kiddieland was beginning its evolution into a family amusement park. At this time, Kiddieland was operating with about 20 rides and attractions. In 1967 Fritz died unexpectedly before he saw the Polyp, the last ride he purchased installed and operating at Kiddieland. 
Grandma Fritz (Anne) and the second generation continued to operate the park for the next ten years. Some of Fritz's grandchildren, the third generation, were also involved in the park's operation by this time.

In 1977, Kiddieland was purchased by three of Fritz's grandchildren and their spouses. Two of these families and their children, the fourth generation, were the Park's last owner/operators. The late 70's marked a change in the vision of Kiddieland's future. The growth and development was in the direction of "Fun for the Entire Family." Additions in 1978 and 79 included a game building and the Mushroom Ride.
Early in the 1980s, park growth and development continued with the addition of the ever popular Race-A-Bouts gasoline powered antique car ride that intertwined with the north loop of the train tracks and encompassed two small ponds. The original game building that was added in 1978 was replaced with a larger more accessible building, and the Volcano Play Center was designed and built. This area was a play area designed to help enhance a child's motor skills with net climbs, a ball crawl, tube slides along with a kid powered Raft Ride. These elements were built into and around a scaled down realistic replica of a volcano and also included one of the most remembered and mentioned Kiddieland ride, the Hand Cars. The last major addition to the park in the 80s was the Galleon a high swinging brightly lit pirate ship that was installed in 1986. Late in 1987, Anne Fritz, the wife of Kiddieland's founder, died.


 
The 1990s found the owner/operators of Kiddieland thinking bigger and wetter! Late summer of 1992 marked the premier of the single most ambitious project Kiddieland had ever undertaken. The Log Jammer, a log flume water ride designed and geared toward the whole family’s enjoyment, finds guests riding in large log boats on a fast paced winding river of water until they reach a lift that carries the log boats 35 feet above the racing waters. The logs then fall into a short elevated trough of water, which carries them to a peak before plunging them screaming down into a large pool of water, creating a giant splash before coasting around back to the station building. The station was recreated from a post and beam building that Art Fritz had dismantled and moved down to Kiddieland from northern Wisconsin.

In spring of 1995 some reshuffling was done to accommodate guests' wishes to have a bigger, better place to eat in the park. The Sky Fighter and the Umbrella Ride were relocated to the area previously used by the miniature gasoline powered Tractors in order to make room for a new Food Court.  At the same time other renovations included rebuilding the old Popcorn Stand into an all new Pizza Stand, rebuilding the old front game building so that it now houses the Water Race Game & Can Alley Games along with the Guest Services booth. 
Among its attractions was a fire engine, which was used to pick up birthday party guests at their homes and deliver them to the amusement park. 
The entire parking lot was repaved and all new parking lot lights were installed on the perimeter rather than down the center of the parking lots. In the spring of 1995, the The Pipeline was installed. The Pipeline was a water coaster ride that takes guests on a river of water, in a small life raft, through a large black tube that plunges them down almost 40 feet in total darkness, through twists and turns, dips and drops until they burst out of the tube onto a spray of water. The motions and feel of the Pipeline were truly like that of a roller coaster! 
The New Millennium found Kiddieland reaching for the sky with the addition of the Dip 'N Drop, the newest addition sits at the entrance of the Volcano Play Center. This fun-filled family ride seats our guests back-to-back and lifts them skyward giving them a crow’s nests view of the surrounding rides. The ride takes you through a series of ups and downs and gives you a weightless feeling as your seat drops out from beneath you.  Guest squeal with delight as they are bounced up and down.
In 2004, a dispute developed between Shirley and Glenn Rynes, who owned the land that Kiddieland occupies, and Ronald Rynes, Jr. and Cathy and Tom Norini, who owned the amusement park itself. The landowners sued the park owners, claiming that the park had an improper insurance policy and that fireworks were prohibited in the lease. The case was thrown out in a Cook County court and later in an appeals court.

In 2008 the Kiddie Swing ride was installed at the entrance to the Volcano Play Center next to the Dip 'N Drop.
The landowners declined to extend the lease on the land in early 2009. In late June 2010, it was announced that Kiddieland would be demolished, nine months after the park closed to the public. 

Kiddieland had over 30 rides and attractions and was Chicagoland's oldest family amusement park when it closed forever.

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41 comments:

  1. Great article, thanks. Do you know what happened to the fire engine? I remember it picking me and a few friends up for my birthday sometime in the late 50's- early 60's I believe. Might have some old Polaroids of it.
    Thanks

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  2. Too bad certain family members had to ruin it for everyone...not the dream their father had...

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    1. It was the owner of the land that ruined it by not renewing the lease.

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  3. I refuse to shop at the Costco on that property. Goes against my grain. Kiddieland was just awesome growing up. My kids were only able to experience it for about 4 years before it was closed down. That was a sad day indeed. Kiddieland was a true GEM!!!!!!! So sad that the family couldn't agree to keep it going. Greed got the best of them!!!!!!!!!!!! SHAME!!!!!!!!!

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  4. Me and my 1 year old son were the last on the train! So sad. Never Costco! Never

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  5. The article doesn't mention it, but the train ride was reduced to about half its former length at some point. It used to go all the way around where the golf range was.

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  6. Awww man, I wish this place still existed !

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  7. I wish it was still there. Just an FYI the Little Dipper was bought and moved to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee where it's still operating today when the park is open.

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  8. My son's first rollercoaster ride was hear. Actually first rides were there. I still remember him pumping away on that hand powered train cart thing...can't remember name. But he was having such a great time.

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    1. The Hodges Handcar was manufactured in Indiana and patented in 1934.

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  9. Can you get links to the commercials? I was on one with my family. We were on the train!

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  10. Does anyone else remember the little hand crank cars that went around a track? I didn't read any mention of them or see any photos.

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    1. They were called Lava Run Hand Cars in their "second life" on the 2002 map, when I took my kids there. But when I was little, in the 60s, they were propelled differently. I loved the original ones - the later ones just weren't the same!

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    2. Yes, my favorite ride was the hand cracked little train carts. I put an image in my profile pic to share!

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  11. Growing up summers were special for friends and myself going to Kiddieland. We lived in Elmwood Park and travelled through the "forest preserves" which would lead us right across the street from the park. Fun times! The thrill of going there and riding all day is etched in my memory. Such a shame it had to close, greed no doubt.

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    1. It was closed due to a family feud, as stated in the posted story.

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    2. Land owners wouldn't renew the lease... second to last paragraph of the story.

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    3. As stated in the story: "In 2004, a dispute developed between Shirley and Glenn Rynes, who owned the land that Kiddieland occupies, and Ronald Rynes, Jr. and Cathy and Tom Norini, who owned the amusement park itself."

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  12. This article brought back such fond memories of us with our chikdren at Kiddieland. They were always asking to go. Too bad it had to close.

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  13. My deceased husband enjoyed working at Kiddieland for several years while he was in high school. He had a great time helping the children on and off the ponies and rides. He always remembered the experience with joy and fondness.

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  14. We knew Tom Norini from Boy Scouts and we could tell he was sad that it was closing. We had fond memories of going there, the funniest was that my son (age 5 or so) thought we said we were going to KITTYLAND and he was sorely disappointed that there were rides there instead. He got over it, but it a fond memory,

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  15. I have so many amazing memories of Kiddieland. My father worked here for a number of years and we spent a great deal of time at the park. Love the history re-cap so sad it had to end. Truly sad ending...

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  16. The Pipeline really scared the crap out of me.

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  17. Does anyone else remember a ride consisting of small hand crank cars that went around on a train track? You'd turn the crank with both hands and it would drive the car around the track. I seem to remember a ride like this from back in the early 60's but I don't see a picture of it here.

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    1. Yes, it was called the Hand Cars. It was immensely popular. It was situated just behind the Flying Saucers and in between the Tractors and Roller Coaster.

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  18. The sign was partially saved by the Village of Melrose Park and installed on the Melrose Park Library's north wall, at Broadway (19th) Ave. near Iowa St.

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  19. Back in 1953 my family visited Kiddieland. The only thing I remember was my father talking me into riding the Little Dipper I was only 5 years old and scared to death. Later I brought my children and then my grandkids in the last month open. Four generations of happiness.

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  20. Luckily I have hanging in my office an entrance to north Ave directional sign. bought it from an antique dealer that bought all the signs at the auction.my parents took me there and I took my kids there.

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  21. Back in the 60's there was a Kiddie Land on 95th (where Evergreen Plaza is now) Then they moved to 87th west of Harlem near the over pass. It was also known as Kiddie Land. Next time I heard the name it was in Melrose Park. Are all these the same people or have they only been located in Melrose Park

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    1. Green Oaks Kiddyland, 95th Street and Pulaski Road (then Crawford Avenue) Oak Lawn, IL.
      http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/amusement_parks/Green%20Oaks%20Kiddyland,%20Oak%20Lawn,%20Illinois%201947-1971/album

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    2. Different Amusement Park:
      Fairyland Amusement Park, Harlem Avenue and 40th Street, Lyons, IL. (1938-1977)
      http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/amusement_parks/Fairyland%20Amusement%20Park,%20Lyons,%20Illinois%201938-1977/album

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  22. I was able to take my kids there before it closed, "Daddy go back there!"

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  23. Are there photos or any information as to the gas-powered cars they obtained in the 1930s?

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  24. our parents took us to kiddie land in the late 50s, my favorite ride was the hand powered rail car, our boys went to kiddie land in the eighties, after a fun day at kiddie land we would go to baronies' pizza in north riverside.

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  25. I went to school with young Glenn Rynes at WMA in Wheaton Illinois during the late 50's and early 60's. He said that his grandfather owned Kiddyland but I forgot all about it until now! 😊 I wonder how he is doing today?

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  26. I had a buddy who lived in the house behind the Little Dipper,,,

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  27. What a shame...places like this are what made America Great.

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  28. Our aunt and uncle would take us there every summer. we lived in Bloomingdale and they lived in Itasca.

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