Saturday, July 23, 2022

Chicago's White City Amusement Park, 1905-1933,1949

(Satellite, the land was reused by an apartment complex)

I was aware of an amusement park on the north side of town, Riverview, but I was unaware of this one on the south side. The amusement park closed in 1933, but its roller rink remained open until 1949. 

Mike Tuggle posted
Aerial view of the White City Amusement Park on 63rd and South Parkway (now King Drive) in 1908.
White City operated from 1905 until the 1950s. At the time of its opening, on May 26, 1905, it was claimed to be the largest park of its type in the United States. It contributed to Chicago's status as the city with the most amusement parks in the United States until 1908. It eventually introduced the world to the Goodyear Blimp, which was first assembled at the park.
White City had experienced periodic financial problems because attendance was dependent on the economy. As far back as 1915, there had been a question of whether the park's lease would be renewed, but finally the landlord, Chicago business mogul J. Ogden Armour re-negotiated it and the park remained open. But the Depression, along with the ongoing problems from the fires of 1925 and 1927, had a very negative impact on White City. Although 1930 still wasn't too bad for White City, with each successive year, attendance declined, and by 1933, the company that operated it was unable to pay the taxes that were due, causing the park to be placed in receivership.
White City continued to deteriorate until it was condemned in 1939 and its facilities were auctioned off in 1946.
In 1945, the land on which White City had stood was designated for a co-operative housing development for African-Americans. The irony, as reporters from black newspapers like the Chicago Defender quickly pointed out, was that the history of the White City Amusement Park had been one of de facto segregation. Black people were discouraged from attending during the park's early years. As far back as 1912, there had been comments that the name "White City" was very appropriate, given how it seemed to be a park for white people, and where black people served as objects of ridicule: one game was called the "African Dip", and it involved patrons throwing projectiles at the head of a black person, and trying to hit him. Black columnists were irate that some black men willingly took these kinds of jobs. Admission policies were desegregated when the neighborhood changed and more people of color resided nearby. The housing development was to be called Parkway Gardens, and at the time, it was seen as a hopeful sign that a neglected neighborhood would have new housing.
The same anti-black policies that had beset the amusement park also applied to the roller rink at the park. The rink was still open, and during in the 1940s, it became the site of demonstrations and brawls as Blacks fought for their right to roller skate indoors. In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality was involved in one of these rallies. In 1946, the Congress of Racial Equality sued the management of the rink, saying it was violating the Illinois Civil Rights Law. Eventually, the White City rink (which was named White because of the million electric light bulbs being so bright it could be seen for 15 miles) was desegregated and changed its name to Park City. However, the Park City rink closed in 1958.
Today, White City Amusement Park, which was once considered the equal of other turn of the century parks like Coney Island, is all but forgotten; but in its heyday, it was known as "the city of a million electric lights", because its tower was an amazing sight that could be seen for 15 miles
Paul Jevert shared
Chicago Genealogical Society posted
We are looking at a photo of a DIFFERENT "White City", not the one from 1893. This "White City was an amusement park located at 63rd and (now) King Drive in Chicago which opened in 1905. Where your grandparents ever taken there? They had a "chute the chutes" long before the Riverview park opened. The tower in the photo was fully electrically light and could be seen for miles. The park closed in 1933 but the roller rink remained open for years after. Wouldn't it be nice if some would write stories for our CGS Quarterly about how families in Chicago were entertained in such amusement parks?
Colleen Blackburn shared
Bob Zuley: There's photos and historical data if you look on-line.

The layout of the units in the apartment complex make it easy to determine where the amusement park was. And I learned that the CTA has a maintenance yard down next to the NS/NYC railyard.

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP

2nd of 35 photos via ChicagoTribune
Flashback: White City, Chicago’s first amusement park, mixed family-friendly joys with sensationalism
[The web site is the worst of two worlds: paid subscription AND a ton of advertisements.
The headline says first amusement park but I show Riverview opening in 1904 whereas this opened in 1905.]
It was built on farmland, but public transportation was available because the "L" had been built to serve the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
"Its centerpiece was a 300-foot tower, dubbed “babylonic” by the Tribune. Lined with 20,000 light bulbs that gave the park its name, the tower could be seen from a distance of 15 miles. A ballroom accommodated 1,000 dancers, and the College Inn, a German restaurant, seated 2,500 diners. Dramatization of the Chicago Fire was staged by 2,000 performers. Real horse-drawn fire engines extinguished blazes set in model buildings."

Normally, amusement parks were built by interurban railroads to generate revenue during the weekends. For example, Riverside, Kiddieland, Dellwood, and Robison. But in this case, it was built near existing public transportation to make money.

White City Amusement Park, at 63rd Street and South Parkway (later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), was inspired in part by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the demand for entertainment it created. White City’s “Electric Tower” – a steel tower covered with electric lights – could be seen 15 miles away. Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum

Chicagology and drloihjournal
Bird’s Eye View of White City. 1905

This topic provides another opportunity to study different colorizations for postcards.

Vintage postcards captured the park’s layout in its heyday. The inspiration of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was unmistakable. White City was open from 1904 to 1933 (a roller rink remained open until 1949). Photo Credit:
Marc Riener posted (source)
A postcard for the "White City Amusement Park" located at 63rd St. and South Parkway Chicago, IL. It opened in 1905 and closed in the 50's
Leslie Adkins: South Parkway has been renamed to King Dr.
Gregory Gorski: My grandfather was born in 1909, and he talked about this place , he really liked it. Said it was beautiful when lit up at night.It was meant to emulate the originally White City the 1893 Columbian exposition.

[This web site has a ton of images and additional links.]

It was the topic of many postcards. Sending a postcard back then was comparable to today's posting of a selfie; that is, "look where I'm at now."

Mitt R. Malbec posted four images with the comment: "Unlike Riverview, White City had a very short life not much is known of this forgotten Amusement Park..."
Paul Jevert shared with the comment: "Chicago's WHITE CITY Park."




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