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.
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
7. Chicago Bobs
9. Chicago Loop
11. Dunk tank
13. Chicago Log Race
14. Handwriting analysis
15. Chicago Cat
17. Kiddie Rides
18. Moon walk
22. Snacks Concession stand
26. Bumper Cars
27. Ferris Wheel
28. Haunted House
31. Vaudeville Theatre
Visit our Souvenir Shop on your way out.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Radio Commercial on WMET in 1977, for Old Chicago.
Old Chicago Amusement Park - Interior Footage
Old Chicago Amusement Park - Final Days
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.
Visit our Souvenir Shop on your way out.