Desplaines Avenue, Forest Park
Opened 1907, closed 1922
Located about one mile southwest of downtown Oak Park in the neighboring suburb of Forest Park was one of Chicago’s largest summertime attractions during the early twentieth century, an amusement park known by the same name as the town in which it was located. Forest Park was first conceived shortly after White City opened on Chicago’s South Side in 1905. In the fall of that year, local promoter E.A. Cummings and a group of investors purchased seventeen acres on the west side of Desplaines Avenue just south of where it crossed the interurban line that ran between Chicago and Aurora. Groundbreaking took place in November and the park’s owners spent over $1.5 million in the hopes of making Forest Park the city’s most popular entertainment center. Plans included roller coasters, a water chutes, a picnic grove, and an “immense electric rainbow” that would be visible from Chicago.
Finally opened for business in the summer of 1907, Forest Park attracted crowds from across the West Side and the western suburbs. Numerous transportation routes passed by the park and ensured easy access for thousands of Chicagoans. Aside from the interurban line to Aurora and the Fox River valley, there was also the Metropolitan Elevated which, in anticipation of the park’s expected popularity among West Siders, extended its Garfield Park branch operations to the amusement park site in 1906.
The top attractions at the new amusement park included the Giant Safety Coaster, billed in its day as the highest roller coaster in the nation and remembered by many as a “chase through the clouds.” Parkgoers often boasted of being able to see the lights of the city of Chicago from the high point of the ride. The park’s other two big roller coasters, the Grand Canyon and the Leap the Dips, were equally famous. The Leap the Dips supposedly sported the steepest drop of any coaster in the world. It was not, however, an especially safe coaster, as riders were periodically hurled from the cars and badly injured. After several such accidents, park management decided to close and demolish the ride. Other attractions included a Chute the Chutes water ride, a Steeple Chase ride, a fun house, a beer garden, a swimming pool, and a winter-time skating rink.
A devastating fire, spread by the trees and shrubs that surrounded many of its structures, partially destroyed the park in 1918. It never recovered. The park’s owners were unable to rebuild what had been destroyed by the fire and were unable to turn a profit from what attractions remained. After four years of financial losses, they shut the park down for good in 1922. Seven years later, a group of Loop investors purchased the land and what remained of the park’s attractions.
Most of what was once home to Forest Park is today occupied by the Eisenhower Expressway and the Forest Park station of the Chicago Transit Authority.
Image source: “Finish on Steeple Chase, Forest Park,” postcard, V.O. Hammon: #1693, n.d.