New Phil's Beach could be a 'crown jewel' for Wauconda
A splash park, floating play platforms and a picnic pavilion are among the amenities proposed for the re-imagined Phil's Beach in Wauconda.
Although the sandy site's grand reopening likely is two years away, officials with the Wauconda Park District -- which bought the iconic lakeside attraction last fall from the family that's owned it for more than 90 years -- are excited as they finalize their plans.
"We feel like this is going to be one of the district's crown jewels when we're all done," parks Director Nancy Burton said.
Mary Reilly Bastien, a granddaughter of the man who founded Phil's Beach in the 1920s, is similarly enthused about the venture, which will see the beach opened to the public for the first time in nearly 30 years.
"For the whole town to be able to enjoy it (again) -- it's like a dream come true," said Bastien, of Wauconda. "I never thought this would happen."
A long history
The Phil's Beach property occupies more than 2 acres on the western shoreline of Bangs Lake. It's on the east side of Main Street, north of Route 176 and near downtown Wauconda.
Dating back to the 1920s, the beach was a popular summertime attraction owned and operated by Phil Froehlke and eventually his descendants. Its most prominent feature was a tall, J-shaped slide that thrilled countless beachgoers.
Both the beach and that giant slide were prominently featured in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers."
But in 1990, the family closed the beach because of rising insurance costs.
"That was heartbreaking for all of us," said Bastien, who inherited the property with her three siblings. "Our hearts said keep going, but our heads said get out. It just wasn't worth the risk."
Park district officials, however, have eyed the site for years with hopes of creating a public park there.
After more than a year of discussions with Bastien and her family, district officials agreed in September to buy the beach property and about an acre of land across the street for $690,000.
As part of the deal, Bastien's sister, Kathy Reilly, can keep living in a house on the land.
Bastien is thrilled the sound of people frolicking on the beach and in the water will return to the property.
"We've missed it," she said. "And to hear that sound for the rest of our lives, that just makes us so happy."
What's being planned
From the start, the park district's goal has been to preserve the historic site while producing something new for the public.
"Our vision is to create a park where families can create their own memories," Burton said.
Officials hired the Hitchcock Design Group, a Naperville firm specializing in landscape architecture, to develop plans. Among the company's notable public projects are the children's adventure garden at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, the Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake and Elgin's Festival Park.
A budget hasn't yet been revealed.
Two proposed master plans were unveiled at a public meeting this month. Both contained essentially the same elements, but some were redesigned or placed in different locations.
For example, one plan has a kid-friendly splash park near the beach while the other puts it closer to Main Street. One plan calls for a C-shaped boardwalk that rings the beach, while the other has a much shorter walkway.
Other proposed features include: designated swimming and wading areas; a new bath house with showers, bathrooms and family changing rooms; a concession building; and a pedestrian plaza near Main Street.
Parking will be on the other side of Main Street.
Although Kathy Reilly's house will remain, an old boat house used for snack sales will be demolished. But any new buildings added to the site will be reminiscent of the old architectural designs, something Bastien and her siblings greatly appreciate.
"They have bent over backward to keep everything like it was back in the old days, but to give it a facelift," Bastien said.
Based on feedback from the public and parks officials, the architects now are drafting a single master plan. A cost estimate will be prepared, too.
Burton initially talked about a May 2018 opening, but she now believes a May 2019 debut is likely.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done," she said.
Bastien is confident the property is in good hands.
"I don't think we could've found a better group of folks to take care of the beach," she said.