Wauconda beach seen in 'The Blues Brothers' to reopen after 30 years
After a lengthy wait prolonged by the COVID-19 crisis, Wauconda's iconic Phil's Beach is set to reopen to the public Wednesday.
Located on the western shore of Bangs Lake near downtown Wauconda, the beach formerly was a privately run attraction that had drawn customers from across the Chicago area for decades. The Wauconda Park District owns the site now, and in 2019 launched a $3 million renovation that wrapped up earlier this year.
A grand opening bash on Memorial Day weekend initially was envisioned, but the beach remained closed this spring because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's statewide stay-at-home order.
Now that Illinois is in Phase 4 of the state's recovery plan, the beach can welcome visitors.
"Our community has embraced this project from the beginning, and we are thrilled to finally be able to open," park district Executive Director Nancy Burton said.
With a stunning view of the lake and a giant, J-shaped slide in the water, Phil's Beach was a popular attraction founded by the late Phil Froehlke in the 1920s. His family helped him operate the business and eventually took it over.
Phil's Beach didn't just draw lovers of sun, sand and water. The beach and that big slide were featured in the classic 1980 film "The Blues Brothers."
But Froehlke's descendants closed it to the public in 1990 because of rising insurance costs.
Park district leaders long had wanted to preserve the site and reopen it to the public, and they finally got their chance when the family opted to sell in 2016.
"For many of us, being a kid on Bangs Lake defined what summertime fun was all about," said park district Trustee Glenn Starkey, who made summer trips to Wauconda as a youth growing up on Chicago's Northwest side. "Now, not only will so many be looking back and reminiscing, but a new generation will begin making memories that they will be able to someday pass on to their little ones."
The new Phil's Beach features a splash pad, a picnic pavilion, a concession stand, a bath house with changing rooms and showers, a boardwalk and other amenities.
The old J-slide will be there, too -- but only for photographs.
"Our goal when designing the park was to capture the essence of days long ago and create a setting (that) enables families to spend time together and create new memories to share," Burton said. "We feel we have done that and can't wait to share it with our community."
Of course, because of the pandemic, special rules will be in place this summer to prevent spread of the disease.
Most significantly, capacity will be limited to 80 customers at a time on a first-come, first-served basis. People won't be able to reserve space for others, so members of a group should arrive together.
Social distancing will be enforced, too, and people should wear masks when not in the water.
The park district won't provide rafts or other inflatable amenities, but people can bring their own.
Officials don't think the restrictions keep people away from the beach.
"People are growing tired of staying home due to COVID-19 and are looking for things to do with the family, especially outdoors," Wauconda Mayor Lincoln Knight said. "This will satisfy people's desire ... while remaining safe with social distancing and other precautions."
Phil's Beach reopening basicsWhere: 328 N. Main St., Wauconda
Opening day: Wednesday, July 8
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Aug. 9, then only weekends through Sept. 7
Admission: $5 for Wauconda Park District residents or $7 for others (must show proof of residency at gate); entry after 5 p.m. is $2 for district residents or $3 for anyone else; free admission for anyone at least 62 or under 4
Parking: Limited spaces in lot across the street and in a second lot at 600 N. Main St. Patrons will get passes for their cars.
For more information: facebook.com/waucondaparkdistrict, waucondaparks.com or (847) 865-0220.
Source: Wauconda Park District