Hit it! Three 'Blues Brothers' suburban film locales to visit for its 40th anniversary
The musical odyssey of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues first hit movie theaters 40 years ago Saturday, and the now-beloved comedy wasn't exactly an immediate success.
"The Blues Brothers" -- starring Dan Aykroyd and Wheaton's John Belushi -- made just under $5 million its opening weekend at the box office against a $30 million budget. A significant portion of that budget, which was unheard of at the time for a comedy, went toward the cost of filming on location in and around Chicago. As Roger Ebert wrote in his three-star review of the John Landis film in the Chicago Sun-Times, "There can rarely have been a movie that made so free with its locations as this one."
From the opening moments at the intimidating Joliet Correctional Center to the climatic scene of crashing Chicago police cars under the L tracks in the Loop, "The Blues Brothers" revels in its glimpses of Chicago and suburbs.
In fact, the Northwest suburbs can boast at least three still-standing "Blues Brothers" locales where cameras once rolled.
Phil's Beach in Wauconda
As the film approaches the band's big performance at the fictional Palace Hotel Ballroom, Jake and Elwood drive the Bluesmobile around the Chicago area promoting the gig with a gigantic rooftop speaker. The brothers slowly roll by a strip of sand on the western shore of Bangs Lake in Wauconda. The filmmakers removed a fence between two privately owned beaches -- Sunny Hill Beach and Phil's Beach -- to get the shots they wanted.
Sunny Hill Beach is long gone, replaced by the Honey Hill townhouses. The family that owned and operated Phil's Beach closed it to the public in 1990 because of rising insurance costs. But the Wauconda Park District bought it in 2016 and embarked on a $3 million project to rehab it as a public park.
The work is finally done, so those who want to enjoy Phil's Beach once again might need only wait until Phase 4 of reopening Illinois, according to Tim Staton, the director of recreation for the Wauconda Park District.
Staton said the beach will be familiar to film buffs, but changes have been made since "The Blues Brothers" filmed there in 1979. The district removed and replaced the existing buildings at Phil's Beach, and the iconic slide that is seen in the movie launching a swimmer high into the air is no longer insurable. Staton said the slide will be displayed on land so people can check it out and take photos.
Nelson Funeral Home in Park Ridge
After a spiritual experience in a church helmed by James Brown early in "The Blues Brothers," Jake decides he and Elwood need to get the band back together. The difficulty of that task begins to dawn on him in the next scene as the two drive through Park Ridge and Elwood tells him that band members have gone their separate ways.
As the two bicker, Elwood rolls through a red light at the intersection of South Cumberland Avenue and West Talcott Road. Two Illinois state troopers parked at the Shell Gas Station across the street from Nelson Funeral Home pull them over.
Both the funeral home and the Shell are still standing at the intersection and are largely unchanged 40 years later.
West Wind Motel in West Chicago
The cavalcade of celebrities to cameo in "The Blues Brothers" included English model and actress Twiggy, also known as Dame Lesley Lawson. Near the end of the film, Elwood flirts with the international beauty at a gas station.
Before Twiggy drives off in her convertible, Elwood tells her if her date doesn't work out for any reason to meet him at a hotel at around midnight.
After performing that night, the brothers begin a mad dash to the Richard J. Daley Center in the Loop -- and viewers get a quick shot of an impatient Twiggy waiting outside the West Wind Motel in West Chicago.
The gas station has been torn down, but the motel still stands 40 years later.