Sans Souci

6000 South Cottage Grove Avenue
Opened 1899, closed 1913

Sans Souci, opened in the summer of 1899, was one of Chicago’s first amusement parks. It was located on the western side of Cottage Grove Avenue, just across 60th Street from the southern end of Washington Park. The park, though eventually eclipsed by larger competitors, nonetheless occupies an important place in the city’s amusement history. With notable ties to the popular Midway amusements of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, early origins as a German beer garden, and a close relationship to south side streetcar interests, Sans Souci’s history helps explain much about the evolution of commercial amusements in Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Sans Souci had notable ties to the World’s Columbian Exposition, which took place in 1893. The Exposition’s most celebrated component were the industrial, commercial, and cultural exhibits of the “White City” in Jackson Park, so-called because of the white-colored, neo-classical buildings in which the exhibits were housed. The less celebrated but much more profitable part of the Exposition was the “Midway,” a mile-long stretch of popular amusements along the Plaisance between Jackson and Washington Parks. These amusements included eateries, theaters, and unusual rides, including the original Ferris Wheel. The financial success of the Midway demonstrated that money could be made entertaining the urban masses and encouraged the creation of similar places of amusement after the exposition shut down.

One such place was Old Vienna, a combination roadside refreshment stand and German beer garden located on the southwest corner of Cottage Grove and 60th Street, kitty-corner from the western end of the old Midway. Opened in 1894 and modeled on a similar establishment that had operated on the Midway, Old Vienna won the patronage of many south siders, many of whom used the Cottage Grove cable and streetcar lines to access the park. Impressed with the extra traffic the resulted, the Chicago City Railway Company, operator of the Cottage Grove line, helped a group of investors acquire Old Vienna and surrounding properties with the purpose of building an even larger and more profitable summer park. Their new ten-acre park, dubbed Sans Souci after the famous palace of Prussian king Frederick the Great, was bounded by Cottage Grove and Langley Avenues on the east and west, and 60th and 61st Streets on the north and south.

Sans Souci was unlike anything Chicagoans had ever seen. The park’s main entrance at 60th and Cottage Grove resembled the exterior of a German beer hall. The interior of the park featured large shade trees, a Japanese tea garden, ornamental shrubbery, electric fountains, and nighttime lighting. Among the park’s more popular attractions was the Casino, a large eatery where patrons could eat and drink al fresco while listening to bands and orchestras led by some of the period’s most-liked musicians, including Guiseppe Creatore, Oreste Vessella, and Don Phillipini.

Over the years, the park’s owners increased the variety and number of amusements in an attempt to attract patrons and keep the park profitable. Many of these changes were made in response to the opening of a rival amusement park, White City, less than a mile to the southwest of Sans Souci in 1905. Following that summer of operation, the park underwent a $2 million facelift. Between 1906 and 1912, major additions to the park included a ballroom, a roller skating rink, a vaudeville theater, and two roller coasters, the Velvet Coaster and the Aerial Subway.

In February 1913, Sans Souci’s owners, unable to retire a mortgage, sold the park to another group of investors. Searching for ways to return the prominent site to profitable uses, the new owners at first demolished many of the amusement park’s rides and then turned over operation of its ballroom, skating rink, and Casino to outside concessionaires. This scaled-back Sans Souci reopened for the 1913 season, but did little to regain lost patrons. Following the 1913 season, the park’s owners announced plans to replace Sans Souci with a large summer concert garden designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and named Midway Gardens.

Most of the former Sans Souci site is today occupied by housing developments built after World War II, following the demolition of Midway Gardens.

Sources: Billboard 28 Oct 1905, 24; 21 May 1910, 28; 10 Jun 1911, 20; 16 Sep 1911, 34; 1 Mar 1913, 5.