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
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
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
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.
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
Dome dancer Michelle Mauthe, a Bolingbrook resident,
dances in the drizzle for television cameras in a commercial.
The lions arrive to take up their guardian positions
at the grand entrance of Old Chicago
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.
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.
Village shuts down Old Chicago for six hours because
of sprinkler malfunction. There are heated discussions between the Village
Brindle says that each weekend brings an average
of 50,000 visitors to Old Chicago. Traffic snarls Rt. 53 all the way to
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
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
Miss Teenage Chicago is crowned at Old Chicago
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
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.
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
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.
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)
Fayva Shoes opens in the mall, but Columbian House
The year of 1977
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
Old Chicago donates space to the Fountindale Theater
Project, the local amateur theater group, to perform plays.
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.
The Bolingbrook Jaycees stage their third annual
fireworks display at Old Chicago, accompanied by parachuters and midget
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.
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.
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.
Old Chicago hosts the Pepsi Challenge, one of the
first locations in the Chicago area.
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
Following the $6 million revitalization of the
amusement area, the mall undergoes new "zoning" to group specialty
shops together under eight new themes.
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.
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.
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.
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"Largest Indoor Park Becomes Largest Discount
A contract to buy Old Chicago is signed to turn
the world’s largest indoor park into America’s largest factory
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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."
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
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
Bolingbrook gets a Christmas present! OLD Chicago
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
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.
Bolingbrook absolutely refuses to entertain the
notion that Old Chicago becomes a gambling casino. "No, no, no!!"
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Year of 1983
Demolition bids sit on the desks of IC officials,
but a prospective buyer gives the building a stay of execution.
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.
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
Mayor Ed Rosenthal says, "Why give anything
up? It doesn’t cost the village anything to try to keep selling the
Two men are arrested breaking into Old Chicago.
Police acknowledge a growing and persistent problem with vandals at the
boarded up amusement park.
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
The Year of 1984
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Year 1986
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
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
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.
Piles of rubble grow along Rt. 53 just south of
I-55 as Old Chicago’s walls tumble.
The dome quietly sinks into the sunset with absolutely
By the end of the month, not a trace of the former
amusement park remains but memories.
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