White City Amusement Park
Life Span: 1905-~1930
Location: Sixty-third Street south to Sixtv-fifth Street; from South Park Avenue to Calumet Avenue.
The White City Magazine, February, 1905, Volume 1, Number 1
TYPICAL of Chicago, with its bustle and quick action was the founding of White City. The conception of the plan, the immediate decision as to its merits, the launching of the project and the work of construction: all have been appropriately energetic and in accordance with the traditions of Chicago.
One afternoon during the summer of 1904 two Chicago men were engaged in earnest conversation. They were discussing various features of the St. Louis Exposition, the Amusement Parks in various eastern cities, until finally the subject of the entire lack of commensurate amusement facilities for Chicago’s millions was broached.
These two men were A. J. Jones and Paul D. Howse; both familiar with the subjects under discussion and as well acquainted with the details of summer amusement enterprises as any two men in the United States.
“I know of the best location in the United States for an amusement park,” finally said Howse.
“If you have the location I know where we can get all the money we need to build it and operate it,” said Jones.
“Green Fields and Pastures New”
Then they commenced to figure. For the sum of $40,000 they could finance such a venture as seemed desirable, This attraction and that attraction could be bought or leased or run on shares, etc. They could build this and that and so on. Yes, it would surely be a success.
Mr. Howse called on J. Ogden Armour and asked him about a certain vacant tract of land which had produced an excellent crop of corn that season and had netted Mr. Armour a rental of probably not less than $100. The property covered about 14 acres and extended from Sixty-third Street south to Sixtv-fifth Street; from South Park Avenue to Calumet Avenue.
As a result of that interview Mr. Howse went away with an option in his pocket. So far all went well and under the favorable auspices of their recent success the affair developed such possibilities that the question of using more than the allotted $40,000 became more and more pertinent.
“The Wall Street game is not in my line,” remarked HoAvse to his friend Jones, “but if it was I would raise $100,000 to use in making this Park of ours the createst thing of the kind ever heard of in
“Same here,” replied Jones. “We can take care of the work of putting it up and running it : we know all about that sort of thing, but what we need is a financier. We should have at least $100,000.”
“The next thing is to get the right man,” replied Howse.
“I know of a man,” continued Jones, after a moment’s thought, “just the man to finance this affair. If we could get him to take charge of that end of it there would be no chance of a doubt as to its success. He’s one of the most capable men in Chicago. \Miy, he took the deadest hotel in Chicago and within a year he has made it the liveliest one and the best money-maker.”
“The very man,” replied Howse.
“That’s Joseph Beifeld of the Sherman House and College Inn. He’s the talk of the town when people discuss successful business enterprises.”
The next day as Mr. Beifeld was entertaining some business acquaintances at luncheon in the College Inn, he received a card from Mr. Jones. Excusing himself from his guests he was introduced by Mr. Jones to Mr. Howse and a few moments of conversation followed, during which volleys of questions and answers passed back and forth.
With that remarkable intuition which has characterized all his business dealings, Mr. Beifeld realized the wonderful opportunities presented and made his decision quickly. He agreed to undertake the financing of White City. Then, turning to the table where his friends awaited him. among them being some of Chicago’s best known capitalists, he explained the project in a few words.
“I’ll take $10,000 stock in it,” said one.
“I’ll take $20,000 in it myself,” said another.
“Give me $15,000 worth,” said a third.
“Hold on, gentlemen,” said Mr. Beifeld, “there won’t be enough to go around at this rate. Wait until we see just how we will arrange this.”
But the venture was successfully launched and as Messrs. Jones and Howse went away, a little bewildered with the rapidity of it all, they knew that White City had passed from an uncertainty into a tangible business enterprise.
A few days later found the trio, Messrs. Beifeld, Howse and Jones, in New York City. They viewed the amusement parks of Conev Island and noted the successful features. They visited Luna Park, Dreamland, and the other leading places and witnessed the intense enjoyment of the thousands who congregated there day and evening.
“I’m glad of one thing, boys,” said Mr. Beifeld that evening at dinner, “we will give the people of Chicago an opportunity of enjoying themselves such as they have never yet dreamed of. When I think of the hot stuffy theatres in Chicago on summer evenings; when I think of the absolute barrenness of the lives of so many thousands of men. women and children there, who have no place to go for clean, unobjectionable entertainment and pleasure, I’m glad that we are going to build White City, from humanitarian principles if for no other reason.”
And the others declared that they felt exactly as he did about it.
Days of hard work and careful inspection followed. They talked with men interestcd in the, various enterprises and discussed the reasons for this failure and that success until one evening “Mr. Beifeld said:
“We must bear out the traditions of Chicago. Chicago has never yet taken second place in anything. Here, in New York, are a score or more of enterprises built at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each. We are talking of building something in Chicago at a cost of only $100,000. It is not the right thing. Why should not Chicago have something bigger and grander than anything we have seen here? Why should we think of taking second place?”
“It’s up to you,” said Mr. Jones.
“I’ll not be an imitator,” continued Mr. Beifeld, “I will lead but I won’t follow. I will originate but not imitate. Boys, we’ll make White City bigger and grander than anything they have in New York and instead of spending a paltrv $100,000 to build it, we’ll spend a million.”
Before leaving New York on their return, arrangements were completed with the most skilled architect known in connection with the designing and constructing of similar enterprises; Edward C. Boyce, who has designed and built more amusement parks than any other man in America and who has created some of the most successful devices for entertainment.
Mr. Boyce entered the White City Company and was made the vice-president when they elected officers. Mr. Joseph Beifeld was elected president, Mr. A. J. Jones, secretary and treasurer, and Mr. Paul D. Howse, general manager.
Shortly after their return to home, an army of workmen drove a peaceful flock of sheep out of the selected ground, loads of lumber were dumped at convenient places among the rustling cornstalks and soon a fence was constructed around the 14 acres of ground.
In the meantime reports of the new enterprise reached the ears of many Chicago business men and the projectors began to receive requests for stock. New York men came on to investigate and expressed a desire to participate in the venture but they were too late. Chicago had amply financed her remarkable new enterprise in the way characteristic of Chicago and capital went begging for the opportunity of investment.
Enormous Scene Palace
All attractions and enterprises which were to be considered for the new Park must be strictly high class and wholly free from questionable features. Everything to have a place must be of a character which would pemiit a discussion of details in the home and at the fire-side of every Chicago family. Every entertaining feature must be new and up-to-date, yet devoid of opportunities for criticism. Clean, healthful, mirth-provoking, care-dispelling amusements were to be chosen, and only such, in order to make every father and every mother feel assured that they could spend an afternoon or evening at White City, accompanied by the little folks, and there would be nothing to regret afterwards.
The management was besieged by an army of showmen, “fakirs,” side-show men, museum freaks, etc., until word was passed down the line that there was “nothin’ doing” at White City unless a clean bill could be shown. Frightful monstrosities, hideous dwarfs and all sorts of nature’s pleasantries in the way of creating came to make application and as quickly went away again. The grown folks were to be entertained and the little ones were to be amused; not frightened or awed by weird and unpleasant things.
From the best and most deserving of “clean” amusement devices were finally selected the wonderful features which will make White City the trreatest and most charming amusement resort in the world. Nothing suggestive, nothing terrible, nothing disagreeable or nothing questionable. Yet everybody who visits White City will be so well entertained that the people of Chicago will wonder how they were able to get along at all without it.
So, when the hospitable gates of this city of entertainment and amusement are thrown open to the public on the 27th of May, 1905, the citizens of Chicago and her suburbs will have occasion to thank Mr. Paul Howse for his idea, to thank Mr. Beifeld for his keen intuition and financing abilities, to thank Mr. Boyce for his architectural skill, and in fact, to thank everybody who has contributed to the work of constructing this wonderful, fairy-like place.
Designed and constructed with the intention of having absolutely the best restaurant and dining hall in America. Owned by the Sherman House Hotel Company of Chicago. An architecturally beautiful structure with specially designed fittings and furnishings, equipped with every modern device and improvement and capable of accommodating 2,000 persons. The general scheme of decoration will be similar to the famous College Inn.
Total expenditure required is not less than $60,000. White City College proper will occupy the second floor. The first floor to contain a popular-priced temperance cafe, also a model German restaurant with specially imported delicacies of all kinds.
Opening Day Advertisements
Chicago Tribune May 27, 1905
Electrical Illumination of White City
Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1959
BY JEAN BOND
More than a former amusement park perished Nov. 28 when the last structure in the White City amusement park was destroyed by fire. White City in its heyday was like an unruly, impulsive movie queen who was often in trouble. No one objected to her flings, because, most of all, she was never dull.
She lived a gay life, a life with adventurous stunts, gigantic shows, daring rides, and a number of brushes with the law. For years after she opened her doors in 19041 thousands of visitors came, hoping that some of the gaity would rub off. Many still live in Chicago and remember.
Invests Small Bankroll
White City was conceived by a man named Aaron Jones whose dream was to build an amusement park similar to the midway of the Columbian Exposition. Jones had built up a small bankroll by operating penny arcades in the Loop. He got more money from his landlord, Joseph Byfield, and an era began.
They purchased a 13 acre cornfield bounded by 63d and 66th streets, and South Park and Calumet avenues. In the center of the grounds they built the famous tower of steel which glowed with multitudes of electric lights and earned for the park the label “City with a Million Lights.” The tower could be seen from 15 miles to the south and southeast on most summer evenings.
Rides, penny arcades, a boardwalk, the roller rink, a ballroom, an arena, and show buildings were added. They opened in the summer of 1904 and flourished as long as Jones directed entertainment for the park.
Scene in the Fire Show
Top Flight Entertainment
Spectaculars and firsts dot the park’s history. One of its more famous spectaculars was the twice nightly fire show. Some 2,000 persons staged the show in which a couple of model buildings were set ablaze. Fire engines rushed to the scene, women jumped out of windows, and men threw children into firemen’s nets.
In 1906 the first airplane flight in the city limits was made from the park. And a dirigible took off from the same field in 1919 and made history when it crashed into a bank building.
The list of stars who appeared at the park would fill a small Who’s Who of show business. In 1912 the first cabaret show in Chicago was given at White City. One of the young singers in the chorus was a girl named Sophie Tucker.
Opera and Horse Opera
Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill rode across the back lot of the park that same year. Diving champion Annette Kellerman plunged from a lofty perch in numerous water shows. The first outdoor grand opera program in Chicago was presented in the Terrace gardens of the park in 1913. It was such a success that opera was on the program for more than two years.
One of the biggest productions depicted the sinking of the Titanic. For each performance Jones used a model iceberg.
Shortly after World War I, White City started taking the road of most great queens— downhill. Her popularity waned, Jones left, the neighborhood changed, and fires and other misfortunes plagued the glittering Mecca.
Fire Is Curse
A 1927 fire ruined the tower. Gradually, other structures and many rides fell victim to the same plague.
Last to go was the roller rink at 63d street and Calumet avenue.
Owners of the White City company have been involved in a number of lawsuits. Cook county filed tax delinquency suits against the company in 1933 and 1943. Also in 1933, creditors of White City Amusement company filed a bankruptcy plea.
Two half-hearted attempts were made to save the park. In 1936 a syndicate announced plans to rebuild the park. Nothing materialized. Then in 1939 a group attempted to form a “Save White City” club. The organization never left the ground.
Crews Change Face
The final push on the downhill journey came in 1939 when the city condemned White City and Works Progress administration crews tore down all but four buildings.
The Community Development trust acquired the site in 1945 and the area was designated for a housing project. Public auctions were held in 1946 to dispose of the remaining equipment and property of the ghost town. Work was started in 1950 and the 800 unit Parkway Gardens Housing project. Down came three of the remaining buildings, a dance hall, arena, and bowling alley.
The last trace of White City was the silent roller rink. A fire was perhaps the only fitting ending to the park’s colorful history.
Bird’s Eye View of White City
View of White City from Airships
Crowds flocked to fabulous White City when it opened its massive front gate.
White City Free Circus
View of White City from Venice Building
Features of the White City
Land Use Survey of Chicago
- 1 White City opened on May 27, 1905