Cotton Candy and Pair-O-Chutes: Remembering Riverview Park

By Megan Cottrell | Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The imposing entrance to Riverview Park. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

If you magically traveled back in time to the 1950s and drove down Western Avenue (just south of Addison), you’d see a radically different picture than the one you see today.

Jewel-Osco? Strip mall and police station? Hardly. If you were a kid, your heart might skip a beat as you approached the large, colorful gates up ahead and saw, peeking out from behind them, the tracks and towers of many rides just inside. You’d be entering Riverview Amusement Park.

For more than 60 years, Riverview covered 74 acres between Belmont Avenue and Lane Tech High School, stretching from Western Avenue to the Chicago River. For local kids and teens, it was an annual destination, representing the essence of summer, fun, and freedom in the city.

Perry Parsino remembers Riverview well. Born in the late ’50s, he grew up at Lathrop Homes (2759 N. Hoyne Ave.), and he could see the top of the Pair-O-Chutes from the front door of his apartment building at the corner of Leavitt and Clybourn.

“I remember you could see the parachutes going up and down. I never went on it because I was too small,” he said. “But It was an exciting place to go to. It was the Great America of back then.”

Today, websites and videos reminisce about great times at Riverview, and old Riverview memoribilia goes for a pretty penny. It was a family destination, and kids of all ages lined up to tour the funhouse Aladdin’s Castle or ride “The Bobs,” the park’s most popular roller coaster.

Before it was Riverview, the area was used by German immigrants as a shooting range. When locals started to rent space there for picnics, one of the owner’s sons got the idea to add rides, similar to parks he’d seen in Europe. The modest park added rides over the years and became a place for cheap dates, family gatherings, and summer outings.

Then, suddenly in 1967, Riverview was closed. Parsino says a sign was hung on the front gates announcing that the park wouldn’t reopen again the next year.

“I remember it being kind of a shock,” said Parsino. “I was eight years old when it closed. We were expecting to go. It was a shock and a disappointment.”

For a while, he says, the property remained vacant. In fact, Parsino remembers he and a friend used to go there to ride a minibike up and down the old park pathways. They fished in the river for crayfish and brought them home to bewildered parents.

Slowly, he says, the development we know today was built. But a generation of Chicagoans still remember Riverview and smile, thinking of the fun and excitement had there.

So the next time you’re at the Jewel near Western and Roscoe, hauling groceries to your car, stop and smell the air a bit. Maybe you’ll catch a whiff of cotton candy or hear the ghost cry of some kids flying down the roller coaster track. As park enthusiasts say, Riverview may be gone, but it’s not forgotten.

Want to know more? Visit the Chicago Tribune’s wonderful photo gallery of Riverview or Sharpshooter’s Productions, where you can order a documentary or book about the park, Laugh Your Troubles Away. Also, stop by Riverview Tavern (1958 W. Roscoe), which is named after the theme park and features memorabilia and photos on the walls.

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