Riverview: A Lost Amusement Park in the Heart of Chicago
Riverview Park, once located in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, was one of the greatest amusement parks. It boasted over 120 rides, including six coasters, more than any other park in the world at the time. Over the course of its existence, from 1904 until 1967, Riverview was visited by over 200 million patrons. Many Chicagoans’ parents and grandparents remember Riverview well, be they frequent visitors or occasional tourists. A great spot for a date, to grab some food, or to get scared silly on a dull night, Riverview still holds a special place in the heart of all those who remember.
Imagine driving down bustling Western Avenue on a warm summer day. Your anticipation crescendos when in the distance you finally make out the hazy peaks of a giant wooden roller coaster. Not much further, parachutes stream from the top of a giant steel tower, billowing with air as they float to the ground. Rolling down the windows as you approach, you can hear the clank of coaster cars and the thrilled screams and laughter of riders. The chatter of excited teenagers and families floats above the noise of the street cars and traffic. Watching the rides through the glass you nervously gauge your own guts. Can I stomach the 90 mile-per-hour Bobs coaster? Will I make it through the mysterious mirrored mazes of Aladdin’s Castle? At last, you arrive at the famous entry arch of legendary Riverview Park, ready for a day full of adventure, excitement, and fun.
Bordered by Belmont Avenue, Western Avenue, and the North Branch of the Chicago River, the 74-acre plot of land that was to become Riverview Park was purchased from the German Sharpshooter’s club for a few thousand dollars by two of its members: Wilhelm A. Schmidt and George Goldman. They used the area as a shooting range, setting up targets on small islands in the Chicago river. However, the wives of the gunmen complained there weren’t enough activities for their children while the men shot. Schmidt’s son George, returning from a tour of Europe, had been impressed by the variety of amusements and entertainment he’d found at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. He became determined to build similar attractions at Sharpshooters Park. An investor or two later, Riverview Park opened in 1904, with just three rides.
From humble beginnings, Riverview continued to expand exponentially with more investors and revenue. Admission to the park was practically free, as patrons paid for attractions separately. This made it particularly alluring to hard-working Chicagoans without a lot of money to spare. In 1908 they installed a beautiful 70-horse carousel. For the winter months they constructed a ballroom, often filled with the sounds of jazz and German music, and a roller rink. Visitors could tour the midways– complete with eateries, shows, games, and exhibits–or lunch in the cool picnic groves. Riverview was also the birthplace of the foot-long hot dog, a cheap, filling meal introduced in the thirties for families too strapped to visit the park’s other restaurants.
The park was most famous for its roller coasters. In 1926, they added The Bobs, Riverview’s most popular ride, and one of the most renowned and feared in all the world. It boasted an almost 90-foot drop, teeth-rattling turns, and (it was whispered) speeds of up to ninety miles an hour on a good, humid day. Other coasters included The Flying Turns, purchased from the Century of Progress Exposition, The Comet, the Blue Streak, and the Jetstream.
Despite the park’s success, Riverview was sold to a LaSalle street investment firm on October 3rd, 1967. The city was shocked by the news. Owners cited the changing culture in the park: once a carefree place, crime and racial tension had jumped to an all time high. Though the park seemed to be doing well, escalating costs of maintenance, taxes, and labor made the 6.5 million dollar offer too enticing to pass up. There were no goodbyes after the summer season — Riverview was immediately demolished. Today in the area once occupied by Riverview stands a strip mall, the 19th district police station, Devry University, and Richard Clark Park. If you wander around, you can still find the foundations of some of the old attractions. Though no one will ever again soar on the Strat-O-Stat or steal a kiss in the tunnel of love, the story of Riverview will forever thrill the imaginations of future generations.
For more information, check out riverviewparkchicago.com. They offer tours of the site along with loads of pictures and information.