Saturday, January 28, 2017

The 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.

The Little Dipper was a light-hearted, breezy ride through a figure eight track. The train tackled swervy descents and swift turns, racing at moderate speeds that made riders scream and giggle at the same time. The car chugged through a whirlwind 700-foot-long track in about a minute. From a peak height of only 30 feet, the first drop isn’t too steep, but was still exciting enough for a little tummy-tickle. Plus, the quick swoops, fast curves, and sudden switchbacks were extra jaw-dropping.

Take a ride on the "Little Dipper" roller coaster. This is the twin sister of Kiddieland's Little Dipper that was first in Kiddy Town at Harlem and Irving Park Road from 1953-1964. Then Hillcrest (Amusement) Park in Lemont bought the Little Dipper and it was running for their 1967 season. A small amusement park in Wisconsin called Little Amerricka Amusement Park (formerly Little A-Merrick-A) in Marshall, Wisconsin (owned by a family named Merrick). The Little Amerricka Amusement Park is still open. The "Little Dipper" was renamed the "Meteor" and was operational for the 2007 season.
Ride the "Meteor" in first-person point of view.

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, one of only two in the U.S. 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 and Kiddieland closed at the end of the 2009 season. In late June of 2010, it was announced that Kiddieland would be demolished. Kiddieland had over 30 rides and attractions and was Chicagoland's oldest family amusement park when it closed forever.

Kiddieland's Little Dipper roller coaster was bought by Six Flags Great America and is still in operation today.

Visit our Souvenir Shop on your way out.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


Photo by: Walter Rieger

Photo by: Walter Rieger

Photo by: Walter Rieger

Photo by: Walter Rieger

Photo by: Walter Rieger

Photo by: Walter Rieger