Old Chicago


Old Chicago
Bolingbrook, Illinois
How Did It Happen:  The Old Chicago Story

This article was originally printed in the Met on April 17, 1986

 

The year of 1973

In June of 1973, Robert Brindle brings a watercolor print of his proposed Old Chicago Towne to the Bolingbrook plan commission.

He proposes a 345,000 square foot complex that will include outdoor-type amusement rides ringed by stores. He promises to "put Bolingbrook on the map."

"We don’t expect any of the big merchandising giants here," says Brindle. Shops are to be of the specialty variety.

Brindle was negotiating during that spring with the village.

Bolingbrook and Romeoville vied for the development and tax money it would bring. Old Chicago would be south of I-55 and thought to be rightfully Romeoville’s according to the prevailing philosophy in the southern village at that time.

Purchase of an additional 200 acres to accommodate a hotel and golf course fell through.

 

The year of 1974

 January

Brindle brings the first of his building plans to the plan commission. But the building's foundation – without approval of the village – has already been laid in the fall of 1973.

The first of many legal troubles start as Brindle is told that his foundation exceeds setback requirements in the village code.

The village refuses to issue building permits. Brindle begs for zoning and approval of plans, saying that he can’t get any money from his financial backers without approval.

A new set of hearings is called. Brindle claims he’s used to building in Southern California where they get approval as construction continues.

May

The 15-foot wide, 40 ton wall sections are lifted into place by cranes – but still without approval of the village.

 

The year of 1975

 June 5

Dome dancer Michelle Mauthe, a Bolingbrook resident, dances in the drizzle for television cameras in a commercial.

June 6

The lions arrive to take up their guardian positions at the grand entrance of Old Chicago

June 17

Ten to sixteen thousand invited guests create mammoth traffic jams to attend a pre-opening party for Old Chicago. It takes half an hour to go from Boughton Road down Route 53 to the park.

With threats from the village and mayor Nora Wipfler, Old Chicago management is told it may not open on June 21. It is too dangerous with exposed wiring and half-completed storefronts.

Village officials find themselves in a no-win position: either allow "civilians to enter the building still under construction" or turn away thousands of guests that fill the parking lot and route 53.

June 26

An estimated 15,000 attend the two-day opening ceremonies following a last minute inspection by village officials. Construction crews work around the clock to pass inspection.

July 3

Village shuts down Old Chicago for six hours because of sprinkler malfunction. There are heated discussions between the Village and Brindle.

September

Brindle says that each weekend brings an average of 50,000 visitors to Old Chicago. Traffic snarls Rt. 53 all the way to Lisle.

Attractions include the Chicago Loop (Arrow Corkscrew), Rotor, Yo-Yo, Flume, Chicago Cat (Zyklon) Windy City Flyer, plus the International Circus and Vaudeville theatre.

Two restaurants serve Old Chicago: Columbia House owned by Frank Zaucha, owner of the new Lemont truck stop: and the Old Chicago Biergarten.

October

Village and Old Chicago management are at odds again over what the village says is reneging on the fire safety pact. Some 500 people are evacuated after a fire in the trash compactor. Park management complains that the fire department was overreacting to a relativity small fire.

Miss Teenage Chicago is crowned at Old Chicago

November

Old Chicago Post Office opens replacing the Osco substation. The new post office carries it’s own distinctive postmark.

The "Comedy King Of Air" 56-year-old Jimmy Troy falls 20 feet to his death from the trapeze in an aerial accident of the Old Chicago circus.

 

The year of 1976

 January

There’s a shake-up of Old Chicago management amid rumors of bankruptcy, just six months after the grand opening.

Brindle is on the way out. New management includes IC (Illinois Central Railroad) Industries.

May

Clyde Farman becomes the new general manager. There’s a note of optimism in the air.

Annual payroll for the park is in excess of $3.5 million.

The amusement tax is bringing the village some $200,000 to $300,000 each year plus $120,000 in sales taxes. In addition, Bolingbrook gets positive PR with its name in every Old Chicago ad.

June

The story behind the Old Chicago bankruptcy is detailed, including $8 million in construction cost overruns. Never less the general manager refers to the bankruptcy as "only a technical readjustment" and announces new attractions that will put Old Chicago on the right track.

Meanwhile, he is casting a watchful eye to the north, in Gurnee where the Marriott Corporation is just opening it’s new "amusement extravaganza" (now Six Flags Great America)

December

Fayva Shoes opens in the mall, but Columbian House restaurant closes.

 

The year of 1977

February

Village manager, Reed Carlson announces that Robert Brindle, who conceived and built Old Chicago, is "Completely out of the picture now."

Control of the giant complex now rests completely with IC Industries. That conglomerates representatives meet with retail merchants at Old Chicago and unveil plans for a major revamp of the amusement park area.

April

Old Chicago donates space to the Fountindale Theater Project, the local amateur theater group, to perform plays.

Summer

Opening hours are shifted. Features are added to attract more people, including psychic fairs, battle of the drums competition, graduation nights, family nights, antique shows, car and cycle shows, The Auccopolco High Diving Team, and the "Human Torch" who literally sets himself on fire.

July

The Bolingbrook Jaycees stage their third annual fireworks display at Old Chicago, accompanied by parachuters and midget racers.

Billed under the headlines of "Public Executions at Old Chicago" a desperate public relations gimmick promotes celebration of Bastille Day at the park with fun shows featuring "the rack", cat-o-nine-tails and other antique torture devices.

August

A new position is created that of "mall manager." He is Joseph Viliack, not to be confused with the new general manager, Cleveland Smith, of Wynne Enterprises, called in to revitalize and rehab, not to mention put more amusement into the amusement park. The mall manager’s mission: fill up the shop fronts.

Hollywood movie director Brian DePalma becomes the first person to try to demolish Old Chicago. While shooting a scene for his film "The Fury." DePalma and his special effects crews send a part of a ride (the paratrooper) crashing through the window of the Biergarten. Extras in the movie include several Bolingbrook residents who may be seen if you look closely at the two minute sequence that immortalizes Old Chicago in film.

September

Deejays John Landecker, Steve King and Bob Sirott host part of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon at Old Chicago. Some $27,000 is raised at the park alone.

October

Old Chicago hosts the Pepsi Challenge, one of the first locations in the Chicago area.

November

The Fun Factory, a multi-level super play area for younger children, with it’s own separate admission fee and entrance opens as part of a $6 million park improvement program.

Also included in the improvements are colorful sound baffles hung under the dome to help prevent the deafening unpleasant noise of outdoor amusement rides operating indoors.

New rides include the Screamer and Barnstormer airplane thrill ride plus a laser light show.

 

The Year Of 1978

January

Following the $6 million revitalization of the amusement area, the mall undergoes new "zoning" to group specialty shops together under eight new themes.

May

The assessed valuation of Old Chicago is reduced by the states Property Tax Appeal Board, from $6.6 million to $4 million.

The reduction stems from an appeal by the owners that they are just barely surviving.

The tax reduction might help businesses, but local taxing bodies, especially the Valley View school district, is expected to be hit severely by the tax cut, and the district may take legal recourse.

Rumors also circulate that (the first) buyer’s negotiating for the purchase and rehab cost of $40 million.

June

Jaycees have to defend themselves against citizen complaints about holding the annual fireworks display at Old Chicago. It’s not comfortable say residents, who also indicate that they don’t care to do anything that might also benefit the park. Jaycee President Tom Delaney answers that since Old Chicago picks up part of the tab, the Jaycees can put on a bigger fireworks show at the amusement park.

August

First of the shutdowns. Old Chicago is closed to the general public on Mondays and Tuesdays, though it can open for large groups such as company outings that rent the park for the day.

October

"Contrary to rumors, Old Chicago is not evicting its merchants or converting the facility into a sports complex." Says Dick Evans (Another new management person).

 

The Year Of 1979

February

A fire in the Old Chicago Tobacco Company is doused quickly after tobacco goes up in smoke as it is being dried by electric heaters. There are no sprinklers in the storage area where the tobacco is dried.

March

The management team rethinks the shopping mall. Namely all the stores are shifted to the front area near the entrance.

Meanwhile, management also denies low attendance during winter months, claiming that the concerts and discos keep bringing in the customers.

May

Another new game plan for Old Chicago, this time the suggestion that a bowling alley and theatres be added.

A management spokesman admits for the first time that amusement rides and shopping might not be compatible – thus the notion of adding more recreational kinds of facilities to the mall area.

July

The professional fireworks display that Old Chicago hires in lieu of the Jaycees blows up in their faces literally when a spark ignites all the bombs and bursts prematurely. Only one technician suffers first and second degree burns, in addition to minor injuries to a 6-year-old, but most of the crowd is safe behind barricades.

Admission to the Fun Factory is no longer cheaper. People have to pay the full freight to get into the park even if they just want to take their 5-year-old to the Kiddy Fun Factory.

 

The Year Of 1980

January

Old Chicago announces plans to construct new concert stage with a new three-way sound system for its "Live at Old Chicago" concert series. They want to "create a more acoustically-perfect sound system…" as if the concerts would go on forever.

March

OLD CHICAGO SHUT FOREVER

Work begins to dismantle the amusement rides. Shops can remain open for some time. Some will. Most won’t.

Foreclosure proceedings are filed by IC Industries actually against itself as a general partner of Old Chicago Towne Partners.

Officials say that the foreclosure and shutdown is a move to help sell the property for another use. In fact, negotiations with potential buyers have started, officials report.

An IC spokesman states that IC might be willing to take a loss of as much as $13 million to sell off Old Chicago.

May

"Largest Indoor Park Becomes Largest Discount Mall"

A contract to buy Old Chicago is signed to turn the world’s largest indoor park into America’s largest factory outlet mall.

Outlet mall investors, headed by Roy Cohn, board chairman of Webber Cohn and Riley advertising and public relations firm, promises 100 outlets of brand name goods. Sixteen companies have already requested leases, he says.

July

Former merchants of Old Chicago’s mall sue for $5 million in a 300-age lawsuit for money they will lose in sales during the time left on their leases at the mall and for the cost of relocating.

Some merchants had as much as 3 ½ years left on leases before being pushed out the door once the amusement park folded. Only four businesses remain in the hollowed mall halls: House of Jade, Super T’s Inc, Biergarten and Olde Chicago Styling Salon.

The village opposes suggestions to board up Old Chicago

September

Mid-America developers regretfully announce delays in opening their discount mall. Originally set to open in August of 1980, then September, then October, they now say not until April of 1981.

Rumors are denied that they can’t get manufacturers to sign on the dotted lines.

 

The Year Of 1981

January

The mall stalls. The April opening is postponed. The option by mall developers to buy Old Chicago actually expired at the end of 1980. There is no option renewal, though talk of some negotiations. Mall developers say some manufacturers are interested in becoming tenants, but what with high interest rates…tight money?

March

Mayoral candidate Terry Little whips off letters to everyone in the world who has anything to do with movies or who has ever seen a movie suggesting that Old Chicago be sold as a motion picture/TV production soundstage. He is successful in getting the state of Illinois film division to come by for a tour of the building.

June

Three dogged survivors, the last of the mall merchants, sue IC to keep the building open following an announcement by IC to shut the place down.

It’s costing $50,000 a month just to keep the utilities on, among other basic expenses, says IC, when it’s only collecting $450 a month in rent. Olde Chicago Styling is the only one paying rent. Other survivors include House of Jade and Biergarten.

Says Biergarten owner Hans Gliege, "Old Chicago may be broke, but IC is a big company and they are trying to chisel us, those of us who have all of our life savings invested here."

July

Old Chicago is ruled out as the Midwest headquarters for the Hollywood set. It won’t become a soundstage. The states film division says Old Chicago is 1) too expensive 2) too big 3) too far away from Chicago.

August

After several postponements Old Chicago is boarded up physically and legally and officially.

But IC Industries and village officials assure villagers that several developers, including Mid-America outlet mall developers are still interested in purchase.

The village’s economic development director, Barb Katterman says that boarding up is really not the end, but the next step toward getting a new use for the building.

The boards follow the official bankruptcy of Olde Chicago Towne Partners. The building is estimated to be worth $6 to $10 million, but has $65 million in liens against it, says one attorney.

Can Bolingbrook survive the Double White Elephant Whammy? Old Chicago teams up with Chrysler as seven metro car dealers hold a marathon sale, pushing 700 cars over one weekend on the grounds of Old Chicago.

Fall

Bolingbrook gets a Christmas present! OLD Chicago is sold!

Within eighteen months to two years away, say new option holders, Old Chicago will reopen – as something. They’re not sure quite what, but promise beacoup sales tax dollars for the village.

Buyers include A.T. LaPrade, Harold Friend and Roy R. Moore Jr. each of whom carry impressive credentials in either shopping center development, international sales, cattle breeding or selling tires.

Until the sale closes they’ll pay IC Industries an undisclosed amount in monthly rent on the closed building with purchase and rehab estimated to total $20 million.

 

The Year of 1982

January

Speculators looking for a place to establish a gambling casino in the state propose Old Chicago as a logical site. Meanwhile, the village remains confident that LaPrade and Associates will finalize their buy, but nothing comes of it.

February

Bolingbrook absolutely refuses to entertain the notion that Old Chicago becomes a gambling casino. "No, no, no!!"

April

"Retail Center" is all that anyone will say about the building’s future. Rumors are denied that the current buyers aren’t paying their monthly rent to IC.

June

Buyer Charles Woods of California has until the end of the month to pick up his option on Old Chicago.

In the meantime, the dome hits the auction block. Some 140 bid packets are mailed out, but the auction is cancelled when no qualified bids come in. Suggested opening: $5.4 million.

Summer

The village adopts a restrictive demolition ordinance to discourage talk by IC of tearing down the building. " We still want a buyer" is the village sentiment.

October

Charles Woods quietly lets his option expire by not paying the $100,000 monthly rent to hold the building.

Reports of deteriorating roof and structural damage surface, particularly if IC decides not to heat the building over the winter, a move opposed by village hall.

November

Village demolition rules and regs are hauled out and new sections added that would make demolition cost-prohibitive. "Maybe this will make them think twice before demolishing Old Chicago, says Mayor Ed Rosenthal.

 

The Year of 1983

January

Demolition bids sit on the desks of IC officials, but a prospective buyer gives the building a stay of execution.

Mid-Winter

The fire protection system is turned off. A ticket is issued to IC by the fire department for code violation. The sprinkler system is not turned back on and is reportedly being dismantled.

July

A growing tide of sentiment rises to raze Old Chicago.

For the first time, village trustees show little interest in saving the building, but officials find themselves in a bind.

On the other hand, putting the building in dry dock by turning off the fire sprinkler system violates village codes. Resistance to dry-docking by the village may encourage demolition by IC.

Trustees Roger Claar and Jim Meyer say "Who cares?"

Mayor Ed Rosenthal says, "Why give anything up? It doesn’t cost the village anything to try to keep selling the building."

September

Two men are arrested breaking into Old Chicago. Police acknowledge a growing and persistent problem with vandals at the boarded up amusement park.

November

The continual problem with vandals leads to a proposal by IC to put barbed wire fencing around the property. It’s refused by the village’s ZBA, which doesn’t want the place to look like "Stateville North".

 

The Year of 1984

Winter

There’s no heat, except between IC, which wants to tear down the building, and the village, which is trying to delay demolition with the hopes of finding a buyer.

Literally dozens, if not hundreds, of speculators have toured the boarded up building over its closed years, but the village is gun-shy of announcing buyers in the wake of so many earlier disappointments.

June

A Missouri gentleman and land speculator specializing in "distressed properties", CL Carter, puts some money down, signs a purchase agreement with IC Industries and is introduced around the town with optimism. The undisclosed purchase price is estimated at close to $3 million, not much higher than the original price of the land alone. Carr does not say what he’ll do with the building, except to promise that it will be glittery – perhaps an entertainment capitol.

July

A shocked Bolingbrook learns that option-holder CL Carr is convicted of bank fraud in Arkansas, stemming from "sham loans" to get money in the manes of friends when Carr was not credit worthy.

No one in Bolingbrook knew about Carr’s legal problems and pending conviction on charges of bank fraud.

Other than "no comment", sources close to the Missouri land speculator say that Carr’s conviction will not stop the purchase of Old Chicago.

August

Despite a conviction for bank fraud, Carr is moving quickly to convert Old Chicago into useful property. Local developer Bill Palmer is his agent.

It seems that Carr’s plan is to demolish the building and subdivide the land. One car dealer is said to be interested in buying a piece of the land.

 

The Year of 1985

September

Car dealer Joe Levy buys a corner of Old Chicago property, thus sealing the prospect that the building will be leveled so the land can be sold for other things.

The property is officially labeled "blighted" by village ordinance. The land is worth more than the building, say officials.

The village acts as middle man in the sale, putting up some $300,000 so Levy can afford the property. Levy will repay the village its investment through credits for the sales taxes Levy’s auto dealership brings the village.

IC industries still owns the rest of the property, but CL Carr maintains that he’s still going to take it off the hands of the conglomerates.

January

The dome may not be doomed after all, says Bill Palmer. For six months every would-be buyer has talked of turning the building into an entertainment/assembly facility. "An indoor Poplar Creek" is one suggestion.

But no one has put up any money. CL Carr technically still holds an option on the building, but is not actively marketing the property.

June

The steady stream of prospective buyers no includes Elliott Glassner, owner of Keystone and Stroud realty companies.

The LDC says it won’t accept any buyer without a specific plan to turn the building into a convention center site that would attract hotels and related facilities. Glassner speaks of a warehouse operation and disappears.

July

Village and IC agree to demolish the dome. CL Carr has until July 31, 1985 to come up with the purchase price or the demolition orders are signed.

The site is to be cleared and ready to sell off in pieces.

August

The final attempt to sell Old Chicago fizzles. No option is picked up. While the sands run out, Old Chicago’s weathered carcass is being stripped of whatever portable values remain.

Mayor Bob Bailey salvages used Christmas tree decorations, the flume ride fountain and passels of souvenirs and equipment still left under the dome.

The lions escape the mayor, and end up at Bolingbrook Auto Center, still on property once part of Old Chicago.

November

Demolition is pending, but county board chairman John Annerino makes one more bid to save the building. He wants to sell it to the People’s Republic of China for an international trade center.

Annerino is taking former LDC president frank Rousseau with him to China to seal the deal.

December

Politicians intervene long enough to give John Annerino time to go to China and sell the property for a trade center, much to Mayor Bob Bailey’s dismay.

Annerino does not return with a signed contract and cash, but he claims to have a letter of intent from the Chinese to buy the building.

 

The Year 1986

January

John Annerino hopes to bring the 1992 World’s Fair to Will County and suggests Old Chicago as a possible site, while still contending that the People’s Republic of China also wants to buy it.

A week later, the village signs the actual demolition order.

February

Village hosts a "media event" to persuade the world that demolition of Old Chicago is a fresh start.

A model depicting hypothetical development of property with a variety of uses is shown by the LDC, but there are no "hot prospects".

John Annerino nearly steals the thunder from the village by showing his letter of intent from the Chinese to the television cameras.

To convince Annerino that no one is willing to listen to his suggestions, an exterior wall is knocked down on the building, denying its use for anything, once and for all.

March

Piles of rubble grow along Rt. 53 just south of I-55 as Old Chicago’s walls tumble.

April

The dome quietly sinks into the sunset with absolutely no fanfare.

By the end of the month, not a trace of the former amusement park remains but memories.






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Paul B. Drabek