'It brought me back to 40 years ago': Phil's Beach reopens in Wauconda
It wasn't her plan, but Cindy Reilly was so early getting to the newly reopened Phil's Beach in Wauconda on Wednesday morning that she became the first customer through the gates.
The Roselle resident has fond memories of going to the lakeside attraction as a kid in the 1960s, and she wanted to enjoy the site now that it's been purchased and renovated by the Wauconda Park District.
Reilly spread out her towels and beach gear on a great spot not far from the water and a new boardwalk that curves around the sand. She also was within sight of the towering J-shaped waterslide that once entertained beachgoers but now is landlocked and reserved for nostalgic photographs.
"When I look at that slide today, it doesn't look as big as it did when I was younger," Reilly said.
Wednesday's opening marked the first time the public was able to enjoy Phil's Beach in 30 years.
On the western shore of Bangs Lake at 328 N. Main St., the beach formerly was a privately owned attraction run by founder Phil Froehlke and his family. It drew customers from across the Chicago area for decades.
In 1980, the beach and its famed slide were featured in the classic film "The Blues Brothers." But the business shut down 10 years later.
The property remained private until the park district bought the roughly 2-acre site and land across the street in 2016. As part of the agreement, one of Froehlke's four grandchildren, Kathy Reilly, will be allowed to continue living in a two-story house overlooking the beach.
The district subsequently launched a $3 million renovation that wrapped up earlier this year.
The new Phil's Beach features a splash pad, a picnic pavilion, a bath house with changing rooms and showers, a concession stand and other amenities.
On Wednesday, kids and adults frolicked in the lake, couples walked along the boardwalk, teens tossed discs and balls around, and youngsters buried each other in moist sand.
The grandchildren of original owner Phil Froehlke were on hand for the opening. One, Wauconda resident Mary Reilly Bastien, said she was overwhelmed by what she saw.
"It's beyond my wildest expectations," said Bastien, who isn't related to Roselle's Cindy Reilly. "It's such a happy day for all of us."
A grand opening bash on Memorial Day weekend initially was envisioned, but the beach remained closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district was able to open Phil's once Illinois entered Phase 4 of the state's recovery plan.
Because of the pandemic, capacity is limited to 80 customers at a time on a first-come, first-served basis. The crowd peaked at 60 Wednesday, Burton said.
Social distancing will be enforced, too, and people should wear masks when not in the water -- although few guests did Wednesday morning.
Park district Executive Director Nancy Burton said her team will monitor the beach to ensure people don't bunch up.
"If we feel people are too close together, we'll ask them to social distance a little more," Burton said.
Wauconda resident Dan Stephan set up a beach chair on a patch of grass near the boardwalk Wednesday. He came to the beach as a kid from Franklin Park in the 1970s, and he's been following newspaper reports of the renovation.
"As soon as I sat down here, it brought me back to 40 years ago," he said. "To finally see this all come to fruition, I think it's fantastic."
Phil's Beach basicsWhere: 328 N. Main St., Wauconda
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.
For more information: facebook.com/waucondaparkdistrict, waucondaparks.com or (847) 865-0220.
Source: Wauconda Park District