Wauconda Park District to reopen iconic Phil's Beach, seen in 'Blues Brothers'
An iconic suburban beach that once was a destination for thousands of families and was depicted in the classic film "The Blues Brothers" will reopen to the public as part of a land deal announced Thursday.
The Wauconda Park District is set to purchase Phil's Beach and some nearby property from the family that's owned the scenic spot on the western shore of Bangs Lake since the 1920s. The agreed sale price is $690,000.
Park district officials plan to add some public facilities, such as picnic shelters and a building for bathrooms and showers. It could be ready for a grand reopening in May 2018.
"It's a great opportunity for the district and for our community," park district Director Nancy Burton said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Herald. "We want to create a park that we can all be proud of and people can embrace."
The park district's deal is with members of the Reilly family, the descendants of Phil's Beach founder Phil Froehlke. As part of the agreement, Kathy Reilly will continue to live in a two-story house near the beach.
The four Reilly siblings are excited about the deal.
"To see it come alive again makes me really happy," Mary Reilly Bastien said. "It's a good partnership."
The beach is on the 300 block of North Main Street. An imposing black gate keeps people off the property.
Under the deal, the district will acquire more than 3 acres, some of which is across Main Street from the beach and will be used for public parking.
Phil Froehlke and his wife, Wanda, bought the land in the early 1920s and opened a boathouse there. The beach opened as a business in 1926, attracting people from throughout the Chicago area with a diving stand, water slides and other amenities.
The beach's tall J-shaped slide was a particular attraction. It's still on the property but likely will be dismantled, officials said.
In 1980, the beach was prominently featured in "The Blues Brothers." The film was shot on location throughout Chicago and the suburbs, including an important scene in which stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi drive along Phil's Beach to promote their concert at the fictitious Palace Hotel Ballroom.
"Tonight only ... from Chicago ... the fabulous Blues Brothers rhythm and blues review ... for your dancing pleasure," Aykroyd says over the purloined loudspeaker tied to the roof of the Bluesmobile.
A much younger Mary Reilly Bastien can be seen in a group playing with a beach ball as the black-and-white sedan goes by.
"I was in the water for four hours," Reilly Bastien recalled. "The beach was full of cameras and the booms going out over the water."
Brother Mike Reilly is in the movie, too, portraying a lifeguard on the big slide.
All the Reilly kids worked at the beach. Kathy Reilly remembered serving hamburgers, candy and cold sodas in the concession building, which still stands and is filled with local memorabilia.
"It kept the family very close," she said of the business. "We worked together and had a great time."
Despite its popularity, the Reilly family shut down the beach in 1990 because of rising insurance costs. It has been closed to the public ever since.
Park district officials have been speaking with the Reillys for more than 18 months about purchasing the beach. The siblings decided to sell because they're getting older and want to see what the park district can do with the property, Reilly Bastien said.
The district's goal always has been to preserve the site and reopen it to the public.
"Our vision is to create a beachfront park where families can create memories similar to the one that we have heard about from days long ago," Burton said.
Park district board President Adam Schlick frolicked at Phil's Beach in his youth in the late 1980s. Being back on the beach for Thursday's announcement triggered memories.
"You forget how beautiful the lake is from this view," he said as he looked out on the water from the sandy shore. "It all comes back to you."
The park district operates a beach and marina at 112 Park St., on the south side of Bangs Lake. Once Phil's Beach reopens, that beach will close but marina operations will continue.
The park board is expected to approve the purchase when it meets Tuesday night. The board will pay for the land with savings and a loan.
Officials also have applied for a federal grant that could cover half the price.