Friday, October 11, 2019

White City (Amusement) Park, Herrin, Illinois. (1924-1957)

White City Park, a $300,000 amusement park ($4,466,000 today), was located at 621 North 17th Street at East Polk Street, in Herrin. 
Grand Opening 1/4 page Newspaper Advertisement for May 30, 1924.
It opened on Memorial Day of 1924 with over 5,000 electric lights. Over 10,000 people attended the opening day. Their tag-line or slogan was: "The Whitest Spot in Egypt." (Southern Illinois is also known as "Little Egypt.")
Main Entrance
The purchased property was cleared of residences and built substantially, artistically and conveniently for recreational and fun purposes.
Location
Mr. John D. Marlow had been in the amusement and hotel business all his life. He was President of the Marlow Parks Corp., which operated White City Park amusement center in Herrin for 32 years with partners, George Marlow, James Marlow, and Paul Colombo. Marlow Parks Corp. owned White City Park, the Ly-Mar Hotel in Herrin and several theaters. The park was open from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
An average of 12,000 people attended on weekends. The park's main feature was the 100x200 foot saltwater swimming pool, one of the largest in the country. Marlow purchased more than $4,000 ($60,000 today) worth of bathing suits and over 1,000 lockers.
Swimming Pool
Swimming Pool Slide
Swimming Pool Steel Diving Tower
The pool was equipped with two children's slides, two large slides, a 10 and a 20-foot steel diving towers with diving boards. A spectator's balcony was provided for those who do not wish to swim. The water in the swimming pool was changed daily by pumping water from six deep artesian saltwater wells, thus insuring a fresh water supply. The pool was also equipped with a chlorinating apparatus that constantly purifies the water with a solution of liquid chlorine gas, thereby destroying all bacterial growth and all water insects. 

A change came for the 1927 season. The entire park was only open on Saturdays (at 6:00 pm), Sundays, and Holidays (at 2:00 pm), although the saltwater swimming pool was open daily.
Ballroom
Ballroom
Attractions also included a roller skating rink, a bowling alley, a penny arcade, a funhouse, the African Dip, skee-ball, a large shooting gallery, a puzzle bungalow, strike-'em-out, and a few mechanical carnival-type rides too; the Caterpillar, the Whip, a Merry-Go-Round, Teeter Coaster, the Mixup, and others. Lots of free acts like tumblers and high-wire acts were common on weekends along with spectacular fireworks shows.
Merry-Go-Round
The Caterpillar
The Caterpillar
The Whip, offseason
For those who enjoyed stage attractions and movies, they found a large, 2,500 seat, cool open-air theater, protected in case of rain by an arched steel-constructed roof, with sides arranged so that they can be lowered in case of rain. The shelter held 15,000 people.
Teeter Coaster
Teeter Coaster
There were numerous concession stands, confectionery, and a restaurant. The park was equipped to handle all kinds of food and beverages. A complete electrical refrigerating plant for keeping meat, bottled drinks and ice cream had been installed. There were a number of electric and gas cooking devices of different kinds, including a novelty Hot Dog roaster, a Tater-Flakes (potato chips) machine, roasted popcorn, and a machine to make sugar wafers.

After the Great Depression began in 1929, the concessions and rides were sold. The theater disappeared, but the ballroom remained open.

The ballroom was originally on the 2nd floor but later was moved to the first floor. It seated 1680 people with standing room for another 600. The dance floor would hold 500 couples at once. The ballroom alone drew 50,000 to 60,000 persons a year during its peak period.


Ballroom Ticket
Many of the nation's top dance bands and big-name musicians played at the White City Park ballroom; Vaughn Monroe, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Wayne King, Stan Kenton, Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Paul Whiteman, and Count Basie among many, many others, including popular local talent. The ballroom continued operation until 1957 when the building was sold and became a grocery warehouse market. The landmark building became a fire hazard and was torn down in 1978.

Summarizing his reasons for closing White City in 1957, Marlow said, "The days of the big bands in the big ballrooms are gone."

Compiled by Neil Gale. Ph.D.

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