At the corner of Sparks Street and South Waycross Avenue stands a colossal building – a monument to an era that most people in the city would like to forget. Upon entering the sliding glass entry doors and passing into the expansive colonnade, ones first thought is likely to be ‘where are all the passengers?’ It appears to be the unused remnants of a deserted airport – high ceilings, long corridors, rows of shops lining a once moving sidewalk, now stilled. Further investigation, however, reveals no baggage carousel, no taxi stand, and no banks of monitors to track incoming flights. So what exactly is the purpose of this gargantuan building? And why is it empty? Most importantly, why was it ever built here at all?
Such is the mystery of IndustriaLand, the abandoned theme park complex just west of the industrial district on the city’s south side. In the early 1970s it was the brainchild of local manufacturing tycoon Arland R. Chandler, stepson of Hugo Chandler IV, heir to the Chandler real-estate fortune, and founder of the ARC Welding Company. During the recession that played havoc with the city’s economy nearly 35 years ago, Chandler hoped to offset the mounting losses in his manufacturing concerns by making a bid for the millions of tourist dollars he saw flowing to other communities with theme parks already in place.
Having achieved some success with his popular ARC Factory Tours, Chandler determined to re-create the experience on a much larger scale, with accompanying shops, restaurants, carnival games and rides. With existing volume-discounted contracts for raw materials already in place, and a labor force craving overtime pay to offset their own economic woes, the vast outer shell of the complex was completed in an astounding seven months. Less than one year later, the basic elements for the IndustriaLand experience were in place, from the ‘Mine Ride’ where visitors could stop the tram to dig for copper and tin, to ‘Assembly Alley’ where guests were encouraged to manipulate the latest in robot-welding technology, to the expansive gift shop, where non-traditional items like filing cabinets and top-loading washers and dryers lined the shelves.
The grand opening of IndustriaLand was attended by representatives of over 200 publications from 31 countries. Their response, however, tested the axiom that ‘no publicity is bad publicity,’ as most viewed the project as a disaster waiting to happen and painted Arland Chandler as completely out of touch with reality, if not delusional, about the potential appeal of his new theme park. As it turned out, they were exactly right. After an initial week of high-volume traffic, mostly visitors drawn to gawk at the site of the nascent disaster, attendance at IndustriaLand dwindled to a trickle. The overhead of maintaining the gargantuan facility soon bankrupted Arland Chandler effectively ending the Chandler dynasty. Arland R. Chandler died in 1992, from complications due to diabetes. Friends of the Chandler family, however, will tell you he died from the lingering effects of a broken heart.
– D. Andrews