Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Old Chicago Amusement Park in Bolingbrook, Illinois, (1975-1981). World's First Indoor Amusement Park.

Old Chicago was the world's first completely enclosed amusement park and shopping center 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.

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.
The "Shopping Mall" had a cobblestone floor designed to resemble a turn-of-the-20th-century street. One long hallway 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. When 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, a haunted house, 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 donated a "fishbowl" and did remote broadcasts 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.
Peter Labella, playing the trumpet, led the Circus Band at Old Chicago from 1975 to 1981.
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 needed an anchor or large chain store like Marshall Field, Sears, Wards, or J.C. Penny to draw in shoppers. There needed to be more than the small stores to make a shopping mall successful.

The famous magician Marshall Brodien, aka "Wizzo the Wizard" on "Bozo's Circus," had a magic shop in the mall. 
Brodien demonstrated and sold professional magic tricks at Baer's Treasure Chest Arcade and Professional Magic Shop, downtown Chicago, on the private 2nd floor that catered to professional magicians.
Once the novelty wore off, the building only attracted repeat visitors if those who attended special events or lived nearby. Unlike an outdoor park, which can constantly update and add rides, Old Chicago was confined to the space between its walls, and it quickly got old. It was also in a remote location 30 miles southwest of Chicago. The cost of operating the building year-round was very high. I'm sure that when Marriott's Great America (now Six Flags Great America) opened in 1976, the downward death spiral for Old Chicago's amusement park began.

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 abruptly 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. Moonwalk
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


Compiled by Dr. 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

February 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 Old Chicago Souvenir Shop on your way out.


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

  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

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

  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

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

    1. Me too .couldn't wait to go with my brother and friends..every weekend..and lots of sailors hung out there

  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.

  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.

  7. I worked there as a sweeper in the park. My boyfriend ran a ride. He had to wear one of those costumes once in a while. I wonder if he's in one of the photos. LOL

  8. sure was a fun place its so sad it was closed. looking at the pics sure put a tear in my so sad

  9. My father, Peter Labella, is pictured in this article playing his trumpet. He led the circus band at Old Chicago.

    1. Thank you for the information about your Dad. i added it as a photo caption in the article.

  10. A scene or two from the movie "The Fury" (1978 with Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving) was filmed at Old Chicago. Teen with telekinetic powers makes one of the amusement park rides come apart and crash.

  11. My favorite was the Four Seasons dark ride. I was little when I went but I have faint memories of it. I wish there was pictures or a video of it.

    1. Did you see a picture of the Four Seasons (dark ride) in this article? Which one?

    2. I used to love this place. I remember taking part in a hypnosis act onstage. First time I saw a cork-screw coaster! Lots of good memories there! I left it all behind when S. California called to me and I moved west in ‘77. Sad to see they tore it down, but I also was sad to see Riverview Park being torn down too!

  12. I sure miss this place. Great memories!! I remember taking pics with all the characters, enjoying the rides and the haunted house, watching the shows, and then hitting the restaurants and shops after a long afternoon of fun. I remember munching on funnel cakes and cotton candy. And those lions at the entrance. I wonder if those are the same lions at the Art Museum in downtown Chicago. It was a wonderful place. This was the original Mall of America. Old days, good times I remember....When I hear this classic Chicago tune, I always remember Old Chicago!!!!

    1. Old Chicago did not have an anchor store. No Wards, Marshall Field's, Sears, Load & Taylor, or others. So as a shopping center, Old Chicago was a total failure.

  13. I remember Old Chicago! As a teenager, I came with some friends and family in the first year it opened. It was a year or two before Marriott's Six Flags Great America: the only parks I'd been to were: the LAST YEAR of Riverview, and more recently/often FunTown, on 95th & Stony Island. It's too bad that it didn't last as long, and if it had some "anchor stores", like Marshall Fields or Sears, probably would have given Six Flags Great America some competition! No telling how well it would have run if opened up in the last 30-40 years with "anchors".

  14. Just so many! Thanks Neil!

  15. I think one of the reasons Old Chicago failed was that it had a dark, dismal interior. The lack of natural sunlight and windows gave it a vibe of being in someone's basement. To compound the uncomfortable atmosphere, the amusement park area was incredibly noisy. The solid cement floor echoed the constant clang of machinery and motors from the rides, to the point where you couldn't converse. Even to myself as a teenager, the place just wasn't enjoyable and felt stifling. The shops and decor were great, though.

    1. Exactly my thoughts, I had the same feeling the three or four times I went there. I always felt it needed more natural light, more skylights. The mall was dark, and the ride area seemed cold and uninviting.

  16. I truly enjoyed visiting "Old Chicago" and was deeply saddened to hear it had closed - even though my family and I had moved away when that happened in 1980. I loved this place! I certainly wish it could have lasted. So many kids missed out on this experience.
    Thank you to Dr. Gale for publishing this and for reminding me of some happy memories.

  17. I lived in Bolingbrook. The surrounding towns were at low income level. Romeoville Lisle and Joliet did not have enough family money to keep the stores open. More than half of the available store fronts never opened as the rent was way too high for the limited area shoppers to visit.


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