Sunday, December 29, 2019

Woodlawn Amusement Park, Chicago, Illinois.

Paul W. Cooper, a  concessionaire and promoter for "Riverview Sharpshooter Park" (the "Sharpshooter Park" part of the name was dropped in 1905). Riverview's opening day was on Sunday, July 3, 1904.

Cooper owned a water ride called "Shooting the Rapids," a Shoot-the-Chutes ride, but not at Riverview. 

William M. Johnson, a lawyer and the project's funder, was also a promoter for Riverview Park. Somehow, Johnson and Cooper gained control of Riverview from Wilhelm Schmidt, and Schmidt owned the (pre-Riverview) park called Schuetzen Park, then "Sharpshooters Park," from 1879. Of course, they grew animosity until Schmidt finally regained control and forced Cooper and Johnson out. 

Cooper had a successful amusement concession at Municipal Pier (today's Navy Pier) in the 1920 & 1921 seasons.
Woodlawn Amusement Park Newspaper Notice
January 31, 1921.
Chicago, Ill. — The Woodlawn Amusement Company, ℅ Architect Ralph C. Harris, 190 North State Street, Chicago, Ill., will receive bids until Monday, February 28, 1921, for an amusement park to include about 30 buildings on Milwaukee and Devon Avenues in Chicago, the estimated value of $1,000,000 ($17M today).
                                                                                     The Economist, Monday, January 1921.

The new Woodlawn Amusement Park was dedicated on Tuesday, February 1, 1921. William M. Johnson turned the first spadeful of earth, and Mrs. Johnson christened the park by breaking a bottle of fine wine. Fifteen automobile loads of friends attended the ceremony. Afterward, there was a banquet at the Chicago Press Club with music supplied by Paul Cooper's Municipal Pier dance orchestra.
Superdawg and De-Mil Putting Course (added to aid in visualizing location).
A few weeks later, William M. Johnson suffered what Billboard trade magazine called "a nervous breakdown." Plans for Woodlawn Amusement Park ground to a sudden halt, never to be built."

Chicago, Ill. — The Woodlawn Amusement Park Company, Paul W. Cooper, president, has abandoned the amusement park at Milwaukee and Devon Avenues for which Architect Ralph C. Harris made plans.              The Economist, Saturday, April 16, 1921.

Given this, Woodlawn was their attempt to become the big, new Chicago Amusement Park. If it had been built, it might have outlived Riverview.

So why wasn't Woodlawn Amusement Park built? Here are my thoughts. In the late 1910s, Chicago's population expanded in all directions as Chicago's population exploded. Chicago's northwest side was a prime amusement park location because little was there. The area experienced a building boom and was perfect for a giant-sized amusement park.
After WWII, Riverview began to feel the effects of its customer base moving away; and not coming back once or twice a season, if at all. Instead, these families found new kiddie amusement parks, which began popping up like dandelions in the 1950s suburbs. These new parks had plenty of parking, picnic areas, and rides for kids and toddlers. 

They took their Baby Boomer kids to these kiddie amusement parks:

Woodlawn would have been closer to the new suburbs. With the area around Woodlawn still undeveloped in the 1920s and the Great Depression starting in 1929, they might have secured enough land for future expansion to install 1960s and 70s theme park rides. Riverview needed more room for a miniature railroad, water rides, the 80s, 90s, and 2000s style steel and loop coasters, etc.

Woodlawn could have been a Chicago-style Kennywood Park, a Riverview-style amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, founded in 1898 and still running.

Also, at the corner of Devon and Milwaukee Avenues:

1) De-Mil Putting, a Miniature Golf Course at Devon and Milwaukee Avenues, Chicago.
2) Superdawg at Devon and Milwaukee Avenues, Chicago. A 1950s Car-Hop Drive-in.

Copyright © 2013  Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.


  1. Drive by that corner all the time. A lot of open land, would have been great.

  2. Went tobogganing at Jensen Slides for years and years. I always knew that area was destined for better things ... you could hear the wind whispering it through the trees ...

  3. Fascinating. I knew only part of this "old" story and this article was quite informative. I thought there was issue with the Chicago Archdiocese over the park being across the street from the Catholic St. Adelbert Cemetery.

  4. I grew up in Edgebrook, near Devon and Central , and never heard this story. This is why I love this site.


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