Yes, you read correctly! The article was dated January 31, 1921
For all you hard core fans of Riverview, this proposed amusement park was just wrong, motivated by spite and revenge. A few men were quite serious in stealing business away from our beloved Riverview Park at Belmont and Western. Two disgruntled former officials of Riverview Amusement Park, investors, and their associates planned on building an “end of the streetcar line” park on Chicago’s far Northwest side. It would have been on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Devon Avenue (6400 North) and directly across the street from St. Adalbert’s Catholic Cemetery.
Had it been built, the cemetery would have has a very noisy neighbor.
This new park was even planned to front the North Branch of the Chicago River much like Riverview at Belmont and Western, but some 8 ½ miles north. Had it been built, it might well have had an advantage over Riverview with the option of expansion as it gained popularity.
Chicago, Ill – The Woodlawn Amusement Co, c/o Ralph C Harris, Architect. 190 N State St., Chicago, Ill., will receive bids until Feb. 29 for an amusement park to include about 24 buildings on Milwaukee and Devon Avenues, in Chicago, estimated value of $400,000. Source: Vol. 53 Jan. 1921 Economist
This suggests that some or much planning had been done and suposedly there was money behind it. A plan of the park however, has not yet been located.
as I mentioned earlier, had Woodlawns (or Woodlands) Amusement Park (I have seen it both ways) actually been built, it would have been directly across the street from St. Adalbert’s Catholic Cemetery.
St Adalbert Catholic Cemetery at 6800 North Milwaukee named for Saint Adalbert, the patron saint of Poland, was founded in 1872 when a group composed of individuals from several Slavic parishes in Chicago selected the site and purchased the land. Mr. Chapek, a realtor with offices near Halsted Street and 18th Street in Chicago loaned the Catholic Archdiocese $10,000 to purchase land on which this beautiful cemetery now stands.
Poles, Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks welcomed the prospect of having their own place for Christian burial. It is commonly identified on older death certificates in a number of ways. You might see it as Old Bohemian, Bohemian Burying Ground, Bohemian Churchyard, Bohemian Polish, Bohemian Catholic, Catholic Bohemian, or Polish Cemetery.
St. Adalbert grew to be the largest of the some forty-three Catholic cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Today, it has over 300,000 interments across more than 255 acres, Its main road with wide sidewalks and old trees gives it a wonderful small town atmosphere. One of the most famous burials is our beloved “Papa” George Halas, owner of the Chicago Bears Football team.
When a Catholic priest refused to allow the burial of Maria Silhanek, (nobody famous), in St. Adalbert’s consecrated soil in 1876, some members of the Czech community became very upset. Led by Frank Zdrubek who was editor of Chicago’s Czech-language newspaper and a member of the Bohemian Freethinkers’ Society, the group purchased 122 acres of land in 1877 which is now Bohemian National Cemetery on 40th street (later Crawford and now Pulaski) just north of Foster Avenue in Chicago. Bohemian National Cemetery remains a secular, non-denominational cemetery today.
But lets get back to Woodlawns Park
Cooper and Johnson who were behind this plan well reasoned that the end of the Milwaukee street car line would provide easy access for the majority of Chicago residents for 12 ½ cents. The park would also attract those many families beginning to migrate aand settle in the northwest suburbs.
The Milwaukee Avenue street car coming out of downtown Chicago was a vital link because funeral processions were often difficult. Early on, Milwaukee Avenue was unpaved north of Lawrence Avenue (4800 north). Funeral carriages would stall in the mud or even tip over on the poorly maintained dirt road. Complaints to the city resulted in the construction of a plank road which in later years was paved, followed by the streetcar line.
Horse car service on parts of Milwaukee Avenue began as early as 1863 with some electric streetcar service on the route beginning in 1894.
Then in December of 1914, streetcar service made its way to the far north “end of the line” at Imlay Avenue, just 500 feet south of the proposed amusement park. The photo here is of the Milwaukee/Imlay loop/turnaround
There was a spirited dedication for the new amusement park on Tuesday, February 1, 1921 officiated by William Moore Johnson, his wife Zoe, and a gaggle of other dignitaries. There was a ceremony and a banquet afterwards. The name Woodlawn or Woodlawns may actually been intended to be “Woodlands”. Since it adjoined a Cook County forest preserve, you would think Woodlands would have been the better choice, but the name appears both ways in various documents.
The following real estate ad in the Chicago Tribune for Feb 17-18 1921 called it Woodlands.
CHOICE BUSINESS FRONTAGE on Milwaukee and Devon opposite main entrance to forest preserve park and new Woodlands Amusement Park. Lots 25’ x 250’; bargain at $85 front foot; will bring $300 shortly. Act quick. Make money. HRUBY BROTHERS 25 N Dearborn
Not long after, the Woodlawns/ Woodlands project, the competition to Riverview abruptly ended. There was one report that William M. Johnson suffered something of a nervous breakdown. He died 20 months later on October 11, 1923
There is not much more known about the fate of the park scheduled to open to open May 28th. We don’t know whether there was a lack of financial backing, construction problems health, or other issues. But it appears as though nothing was built.
Meanwhile, the venerable Riverview opened on Wednesday May 11 for its 18th season. And Forest Park Amusement Park opened for their 6th season on May 18th.
Who were the guys behind Woodlawn?
Paul W. Cooper
Born Pennsylvania may 21 1878, Cooper was a principal at Riverview as early as 1904 or possibly earlier. He began as as a concessionaire, but became President. He lost control of Riverview when he was found guilty of conspiracy charges to commit fraud against stockholders. He had made secret deals with other concessionaires, siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars rightfully due the park. After leaving Riverview, but before Woodlawns he was awarded an amusement concession, on Chicago’s Municipal Pier, (now Navy Pier) for a dance pavilion and Paul Cooper’s Muncipal Pier Orchestra.
William Moore Johnson
Born in Lambertville New Jersey on April 16 1858, William was an attorney of law with offices downtown Chicago before and/or at the time when he became secretary of Riverview Park. He died October 11, 1923, just 20 months after the park dedication
Ralph C. Harris, noted architect
Born Nebraska May 10, 1890, a graduate of the University of Illinois in 1910, he was hired by Cooper and Johnson to design Woodlawns Park. Famous in his own right, having designed 300 buildings during the first half of the 20th century. He designed six movie theatre as well as some of the largest hotels and residences of the time: The Aquitania luxury apartment in Uptown Chicago, 1350 North Astor on Chicago’s Gold Coast, Canterbury Court on the Chicago’s Near North Side, and the Tokyo Hotel (Chicago). All of these were, for their time, massive structures. Harris specialized in the classical revival style, red brick-clad façades, and terracotta decorations on the upper stories. Harris also designed the 1956 residential Phoenix Towers in Phoenix, Arizona, remarkable for its open-air passages on each floor. He retired in 1960 after 43 years as an architect.
Plans of the amusement park as envisioned by Ralph C Harris has not yet been located. Looking at movie theatres designed by him at the time, might give us a clue as to his design style. It is not hard to imagine a main gate with some of those same elements. Here are pictures of the Ridge Theatre (1919) at 1554 Devon and the Peerless (1921) in Kewaunee Illinois
Paul W. Cooper died in Chicago on September 4, 1959 at age 81 and was buried in Forest Home Cemetery. The cemetery is ironically in the shadow of where their competing amusement park once stood.
Ralph C. Harris, the architect died in Scottsdale Arizona in June of 1966 at age 76
William M. Johnson died in Chicago on October 11 1923 and was buried in Rosehill Cemetery
Now after Riverview closed in 1967, There was talk of a Riverview II being built, but the man behind it died before it got off the ground.
And there you have it Riverview fans, a story of what might have been. I am glad we just have the “real” Riverview to “laugh our troubles away