‘How important this park is for Arlington Heights’: Depression-era pool bathhouse to be restored

While it may have taken a little more than $200,000 to construct Arlington Heights’ first public pool and park house nearly a century ago, park district officials today are prepared to spend the $18 million they say it will take to restore the Works Progress Administration facility to its intended purpose.

The fieldhouse and pool opened in the center of town at 500 E. Miner St. on June 17, 1939 — when the admission price was 10 cents for children, 20 cents for teenagers and 25 cents for adults.

The property has had some changes and upgrades since then — a major pool renovation in 1988 and building face-lift shortly thereafter — but park leaders have spent the last decade planning, preparing and saving for a larger-scale transformation.

Plans call for the interior of the building — remodeled over the years into a “recreation center” sufficient to host all sorts of park programming — to be gutted and returned to its original luster, officials say.

  Recreation Park, home to the annual Frontier Days festival in Arlington Heights, is due to undergo $23.6 million worth of upgrades, including renovations to the bathhouse, a new pool, inclusive playground, tennis courts and skate park. Brian Hill/

The new interior will have men’s and women’s locker rooms, individual changing rooms, a pool manager’s office and concession stand, which will lead out to a raised deck that will overlook the pool.

The 50-meter pool — one of the few Olympic-sized outdoor pools in the area with the 1988 renovation — will be removed and replaced. An updated children’s aquatic area also is planned.

Park programs will be relocated elsewhere, but the now inaccessible historic building will be saved.

“The building is very well-loved by the community. Generations that have grown up here love that building,” said Carrie Fullerton, the park district’s executive director. “We know how important this park is for Arlington Heights.”

  The Recreation Park fieldhouse and swimming pool in Arlington Heights were dedicated on May 28, 1939, and opened to the public on June 17. The project got a 16-hour deadline extension in late 1935 to get federal Works Progress Administration funds, according to the Arlington Heights Historical Society. Brian Hill/

The $18 million project is the marquee piece of a three-phase, $23.6 million update to Recreation Park — Arlington Heights’ second-oldest and most centrally located park. It also is home to Frontier Days, one of the largest summer festivals in the suburbs.

Park district reserve funds will pay for much of the cost, Fullerton said, but the district received $4 million from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — two $600,000 Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grants for the first two phases of outdoor improvements throughout the park, and a $2.8 million Park and Recreational Facility Construction Act grant for the bathhouse and pool makeover.

A smaller-scale park update was scheduled to kick off in 2020, just as the pandemic was taking hold. But state officials allowed the park district to return a $400,000 grant it received, then reapply and get more funds for a larger project.

“When we were able to get these grant opportunities — which we’re very grateful for — we knew that now would be a good time to go forward with this project,” Fullerton said.

  Recreation Park, at 500 E. Miner St. in Arlington Heights, will undergo a $23.6 million transformation with the help of state and local funds. Brian Hill/

The $3.3 million phase one includes installation of what would be the park district’s first accessible playground. The current one, which is 13 years old, will be removed and donated to Kids Around the World, which repurposes used playgrounds in developing countries.

The inclusive playground and a picnic shelter are envisioned for the northwest corner of the park, while a new skate park and shelter would go on the opposite corner. South of the playground along Belmont Avenue would be new tennis courts, outdoor fitness equipment, lawn games and a parking lot to be shared with the library’s Makerplace branch across the street.

Fresh asphalt will be laid to create a walking loop around the Lloyd W. Meyer Field and next to two rain gardens with native plantings.

Phase 2, for $2.3 million, calls for renovation of the baseball/softball field, a new batting cage, basketball court, shelter/restrooms, outdoor gaming plaza and rebuilt parking lot.

“It’s going to be basically a complete redevelopment of the park property based upon three phases of grant funding,” Fullerton said.

Two new entryways are planned on the park’s south side along Northwest Highway — the site of the old Grandt’s Shell, acquired by the park district in 2020, and Mike’s Garage auto repair shop. The district owns and leases all but one property next to the park. The leases for Mike’s, a neighboring auto shop, and a three-unit apartment building are ending March 8, and like Grandt’s, the buildings will be torn down, Fullerton said.

She said the park district has Grandt’s old rooftop rocket — what had been a famous roadside attraction — in storage, but officials haven’t decided what to do with it.

The playground and tennis courts will be removed before Frontier Days, after which most of the phase one work will take place. The pool will close for its renovation after the summer swimming season.

  Red caution tape flaps in the wind near the deteriorating stairs of the Recreation Park building in Arlington Heights. The park district’s original recreation center is being converted back to its original purpose, a bathhouse. Brian Hill/
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