Chicago land vintage amusement parks

All summers in the 1960’s always included a trip to one of my favorite amusement parks. Only about three or four years old, the first I can remember was to Riverview where I traveled in the tunnel ride with my aunt and got a tiny stuffed animal, a monkey, no less, as a souvenir. One of my father’s favorites was the Kiddieland on 95th street in Oaklawn across from the old Branding Iron restaurant; my parents looking forward to a cocktail and dinner after my rides on the flying planes and the toy boats. The Little Dipper was the best at the Kiddieland in Melrose Park and Adventureland was the largest amusement park in Illinois from 1967-1976. Today, Santa’s village continues to capture the excitement of our children, grandchildren and some great grandchildren. The following offers more historic information on each park and the anticipated adventure every vintage child shared.

Riverview operated from 1904 to 1967….closing over 50 years ago this year. My aunt who took my father to Riverview in the early 1920’s remember him being deathly afraid of what became the most popular ride; the Bobs.  She also told me about her and my uncle Frank in the Tunnel of Love….though harmless for lovers in tunnels. Riverview was located in an area bound on the south by Belmont Ave.,on the east by Western Ave, on the north by Lane Tech High School, and on the west by the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Green Oaks Kiddieland located at 95th and Pulaski Road was the closest for me to visit as a south side child in Chicago and was closed in 1971… now a KMart. Opening in the late 1940’s, it offered all sorts of rides that were great for the very young such as army tanks. a beautiful merry-go round and a small Ferris Wheel which my Mom was always afraid. The Branding Iron restaurant across the street continued on until the 1980’s and had a second location in Downers Grove.  My father loved to bowl so having lunch or dinner at the Branding Iron was a treat since Oaklawn bowl was a part of the establishment.

Funtown Amusement  was located at 95th and Stony originally called Kiddietown. This park used to have a fire truck that would pick kids up for birthday parties. This kiddieland I did visit with my neighbors since it was in the same neighborhood I lived and do remember the moon rocket and go carts.

Kiddieland Amusement Park in Melrose Park  at the corner of North avenue and First Avenue was opened in 1929 finally closing in 2009. Now home to a Costco store. It began as a pony ride park and then a few years later, they added miniature gasoline-powered cars  which my family loved. The train, the German carousel and of course, the Little Dipper were my loves. The Little Dipper I could never tire even attending the park with my own children; all of us loving that thrill  when taking off and arriving  back in one piece. It was just enough to ride the coaster over and over again.

Adventureland was originally a restaurant know as Paul’s Picnic Grove and an attraction from 1958-1961 known as Storybook Park. This was the largest park in Illinois until Great America opened in 1976, another an amusement park that deserves its’ own article soon. Adventureland offered numerous rides that included Italian Bumper Cars and the Italian Bobs. But I always wanted to visit the Storybook Park that included Cinderella’s Coach and Prince Charmings Castle.

Santa’s Village, now called the Azoosment park,  is located in Dundee, Illinois, a field trip we would have to plan in advance when I was a child as well as taking my own children. Probably the most fun for myself and family were the bumper cars, twirling inside a snowball during summer and the pumpkin coach. On Memorial Day, in 1959 Santa’s Village opened and many went a few years later to the state of the art ice rink. Over twenty million people have visited Santa’s Village through the decades.

Childhood road trips: Good Old Neon

As a Baby Boomer child  in the car traveling  with my parents, there were no cell phones to play or movies to watch on video players. You were lucky if your parents played games like 20 questions, Name that Tune or Alphabet  where you would look for every letter of the alphabet from the road signs you passed. It could be any sign but neon were easy to see with their beautiful varieties of color, sparkle and great logos.

Though for me, I didn’t really care about the games. Unfortunately, reading a book while traveling made me sick. I just loved to pass the majestic signs. Ultimately, it was the neon signs alone that offered a colorful road trip suggesting great places to visit such as Kiddieland , Margies Candies or the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.  How my parents loved the Green Mill Lounge with its beautiful gold array of lights highlighting the green title,even back in the days of mafia connections.

I always wanted to stay at the Tangiers Motel…something I thought…  truly out of the country. Fortunately, I was spoiled. When I pointed and cheered with determination at the mesmerizing neons, we would actually stop at many taking advantage of the rides, sweets or a chocolate shake; maybe even an overnight stay.

Remember Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign in Willowbrook?  I am only a few miles from the Chicken Basket and the sign still guides me today…one of my favorite restaurants.

Nick Freeman felt the same way about neon growing up and Chicago’s rich neon heritage is published in his full-color collection of delightful signs. From the South Side of Chicago to Wisconsin, his book Good Old Neon  spotlights the familiar signs captured in over 130 photos; many fast-disappearing artifacts of a glorious era when brightly lit signs filled the landscape.

“Several dozen of the signs pictured in my book have disappeared since its publication, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” Nick comments, ” Big reason for my passion for preserving them through photography.”

Nick talks about the cost of the neon which is expensive due to the hand-crafting that goes into each one, as well as the physical and technical requirements involved in their construction and placement, not to mention upkeep.  The fragility of glass tubing continuously exposed to harsh Chicago weather makes the survival of an old sign a kind of urban miracle, deserving, at the least, of photographic preservation. Even the many that have outlived their functional glory days have their own visual appeal. Animated neon signs, working or not, are a special treat.

Nick Freeman, a life-long resident of the Chicago area, has been involved with words and pictures throughout his professional career. Starting at Feldkamp-Malloy, one of the last of the old-time art studios in the city, he spent 30-plus years in advertising–god help him–serving as production director at Leo Burnett and other agencies.

He now devotes his time and attention to his first love, oil painting, and has exhibited his work in a number of local and regional shows. His art, both paintings and photography, can be seen at galleryfreeman.com.

After viewing his work on his website, I was amazed by his polished, realistic technique and use of color. Two of my favorites were Isla Jane and the Pumpkin Farm which were sold. But his wonderful collection offers a great painting of Dog N Suds called Root Beer, Flea Market II, the Blue Goose for sale and many others. He currently resides in St. Charles, Illinois.

Good Old Neon is available direct from Lake Claremont Press, Amazon or wherever fine gift books are sold. Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has been publishing amazing histories and guidebooks about Chicago by Chicago authors.

Unlike many publishers, their books truly capture the passions and knowledge of their authors. Many have been featured in national newspapers and numerous television shows such as the History Channel and The National Geographic Channel. Because of their credited field expertise, most authors are actively involved in non-for profits and several of the the greater Chicago land missions.

Please visit their site and you can sign up for the Lake Claremont Press newsletter to receive announcements about new book releases and special offers of distinguished Chicago authors.