This is the final installment detailing the 20th Century history of the Electric Park site in response to a Plainfield Patch reader’s inquiry: “What became of Electric Park after it closed in the 1920s?” (See the first installment ; for part two and for part three)
Many attempts were made to revive Electric Park and its brief—but unforgettable—popularity. Although the history of Electric Park’s two-decade run has sparked many nostalgic memories, its history after the streetcar era is a colorful tale spanning five decades or more.
Skate Keys and Fancy Footwork
After the death of “Butch” Crowley in 1936, the Electric Park property sat vacant for nearly 14 months.
During the late 1930s, the assembled several parcels, including the former Electric Park grandstand, harness track and pasture at the far south end of the old park grounds. The village also acquired the Electric Park sewerage system that had been installed when the park opened and improved as late as 1921. Adjacent to the longtime community cesspool, the assemblage along the DuPage River became the village’s sewerage treatment plant.
Shortly after “Butch” Crowley was murdered, the old dance hall at Lake Renwick was extensively renovated and opened as a roller skating rink on Friday, Jan. 29, 1937. The roller rink was open during the evening from Wednesday through Saturday, as well as on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. H. F. Cobb managed the rink which allowed no liquor on the premises.
At that time, roller skating was gaining widespread popularity across America.
Due to the success of the Lake Renwick skating rink, George and Florence Kosnick of Elgin, Illinois decided to convert the former Electric Park auditorium building into a roller skating rink as well. The couple acquired the west half of the old park site in late 1937. They opened the new skating rink a few months later in 1938.
Nestled between the DuPage River and the E J & E railroad tracks, the parcel retained two original park buildings. The remodeled auditorium included a wood skating floor, a concession stand and restrooms. The popular skating rink attracted patrons of all ages including school groups, teenagers and young couples. Admission—which included skate rental—was 35 cents per person. The wholesome entertainment venue marked a dramatic departure from the dance club of a few years earlier.
Providing roller skating rhythm for Electric Park skaters was Kenneth W. Griffin. He was the featured organist at the Rivoli Café, an Aurora, Illinois nightclub. He played the Rivoli most evenings, and his program was broadcast throughout the region on WMRO radio. Griffin gained minor fame with his 1948 recording of “You Can’t Be True, Dear.” Traveling with an electronic Hammond organ, Griffin played at numerous skating rinks across Aurora as well as rinks at Sandwich, Illinois and Plainfield’s Electric Park.
The Koznicks also converted the other remaining park building on the site to a billiards parlor. Some historians suggest that the one-story structure may have been either the former bowling alley or the former dance pavilion from the original Electric Park. Others believe that the building may have been one of the original camping cottages that had been enlarged and remodeled.
George and Florence Kosnick moved from Elgin to Plainfield in 1951. The couple operated their billiards parlor through the mid-1950s. The building was, then, converted to a residence.
George and Florence Kosnick operated the Electric Park Skating Rink until the summer of 1967 when they sold the property to a partnership of four Plainfield men: Roger Gaylord, Don Leaman, Gerry Leaman and Bill Speicher.
The Kosnicks lived at Plainfield until their deaths. George died in 1981, and Florence died in 1992.
From Camping Cottage to Home Sweet Home
While the Kosnicks operated their skating rink and billiards hall on the west side of the DuPage River, other changes were occurring on the east side.
Vista Lane was improved, and many of the old cottages were converted to year-round residences. Other lots were cleared, and new homes were constructed as young families moved to Plainfield. Over the years, many of the houses were enlarged while retaining the original, humble cottages within their perimeter walls.
At the corner of James and Lockport streets, concrete and other construction debris filled the sunken entrance yard of the former park site. After several years, the discarded fill obscured the southern opening of the subway tunnel which had—in the heyday of Electric Park—crossed below Lockport Street. The subway tunnel had connected the park grounds to the westbound streetcar platform that had stood along the north side of Lockport Street.
The Fickle Fox
In the early 1960s, parents across Chicagoland wanted a place where their kids could safely congregate to listen and dance to the many “garage bands” as well as established rock-n-roll bands of the era. In many communities, parents raised the money to establish a local teen club. In other communities, local entrepreneurs established local clubs.
By 1965, “The Barn” was established at Naperville after local families raised nearly $45,000. Other local clubs included Westmont’s “The Blue Village” and Aurora’s “Crimson Cougar.” The clubs did not allow alcohol but provided soda pop and snacks for their teen-aged crowds.
In April 1967, a chaperoned teen club event was held in the Plainfield home of Mr. and Mrs. William Sankey. Forty-five local teenagers listened and danced to the local bands of Dave Riola and Sid Paulson.
When the Electric Park Skating Rink at Plainfield closed, “The Fickle Fox” teen club opened in its place. In addition to featuring local talent, many other suburban “garage bands” entertained the weekend crowds as well. Inspired by bands such as the Beatles, the Animals and the Byrds, local talent experimented with their versions of the “60s sound” across the Chicagoland teen club circuit.
Some of the memorable bands that played at The Fickle Fox and nearby clubs included The Vynes, The Maud, Jaguars, Undisturbed, The Cavaliers, The Boys Next Door, The Flock, The Disciples, Little Boy Blue, Winslow Savage, The Apocryphals, Outspoken Blues, The Lonely Souls, The Venturis, Tel-Stars, The Outcasts and December’s Children.
Besides local bands, regional talent such as The Cryan’ Shames, Shadows of Knight, The Chi-Lites and New Colony Six became regular fixtures on the suburban teen club circuit.
Better-known acts such as The Ides of March, The Buckinghams, and Strawberry Alarm Clock occasionally played the suburban teen clubs. In 1968, the internationally-known Sam the Sham Revue (formerly Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs) played The Fickle Fox at Plainfield.
Although The Fickle Fox closed its doors around 1969, other suburban teen clubs continued into the early 1970s. Due to their popularity, teen clubs such as Deerfield’s “Pink Panther,” and DesPlaine’s “Green Gorilla” opened during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
At the same time, WLS radio’s popular disc jockey Dexter “Dex” Card opened a string of “Wild Goose” teen clubs that included locations in Waukegan, Oak Lawn and Joliet.
By 1973, the suburban teen club circuit was nearly non-existent.
Electric Park Postlude
After 1970, the west side of the former Electric Park became a storage and industrial facility. The former Electric Park auditorium was used as a warehouse for the next 15 years. For a time, the site was utilized for school bus storage. Coincidentally, Kosnick’s former billiard parlor was burned to the ground on the eve of the annual firemen’s dance in the early 1970s.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the former Electric Park auditorium building housed a fence fabricating company. The owners of that company, devotees of old amusement parks, had stored salvaged remnants of Chicago’s famed Riverview Amusement Park in the former auditorium building.
In August 1990, a devastating Plainfield tornado swept away nearly every remaining remnant of Electric Park.
However, a close examination of the houses lining James Street and Vista Lane in 2012 reveals a half dozen or so homes that still incorporate an original Electric Park camping cottage, built more than a century ago.
Upcoming Column: The Hess House
Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.
© 2012 Michael A. Lambert. All Rights Reserved