For several summers past, Brookfield residents have gathered their neighbors together to hold a simple block party. This warm-weather activity involves arranging with the village to barricade a one block section of the street at both entrances. The neighbors then set up barbecue grills, tables and games right in the middle of the street.
While music plays in the background, both adults and children are free to walk, play and dance in the street all day long. These events still occur, bringing people out of their houses and fostering a truly neighborly feeling.
The entire Village of Brookfield was invited to attend an event something like this, back on Saturday, Aug. 19, 1989, when the village and the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the first ever Village Block Party, along the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard. Partytime was from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Brookfield resident and then-Special Events Committee member Cathy Edwards brought the idea to Village President Kevin Close in May of 1989, and, in her own words back then said, “He liked it a lot, and brought it to the Chamber.”
Edwards had been inspired by the western-themed Chuck Wagon Days’ celebrations in Kiwanis Park in the 1960s, and the enormously popular Brookfield Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1968. In 1989, she still remembered how much fun everyone had back then.
“I thought it would be fun to recapture that feeling,” she said in an interview prior to the big day.
With the help of Co-Chairman Paul Szachnitowski, representing the Chamber of Commerce, and Village President Kevin Close, Edwards planned out the festivities.
“It will be an opportunity for people to enjoy themselves and to get together with their neighbors,” she said. No admission would be charged to attend.
Like the smaller, neighborhood version, both ends of Grand Boulevard were barricaded, music played and a few carnival rides and games made their appearance. But this was something more than just an eat, dance, and play type of party. People did those things, of course, but were also able to shop. Some businesses on the block remained open, holding their own special sales right on the sidewalks out front of their stores.
Think of the Taste of Brookfield in the 1980s and the Brookfield Carnival of the 1970s and early 80s, mixed up with an old-time Brookfield business favorite, the Sidewalk Sale. A vaguely carnival atmosphere, but without so many rides or games. Sort of like a Brookfest in miniature, but without fireworks, and lasting for only one day.
The day of the Village Block Party was beautiful; a dry, humidity-free one, with skies sunny enough and cloudy enough to be bright, but not monotonously so. There was a good, occasional breeze out of the southeast, that blew northwards the giant orange balloon and American flag tethered high over the Block Party area. The temperature varied little, hovering in the mid-70s range well into the evening hours.
From noon to 2 p.m., Toby Rhodes acted as Disc Jockey. Heavy metal live music was provided by Shotgun Justice from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Jim Drnek and the Tonemasters took over from 4 to 5 p.m., playing and singing country western, polka and Dixieland music.
Getting his 15 minutes of fame was Brookfield’s own Larry Dvorak, doing his famous Michael Jackson impression from 5:30 to 5:45 p.m. From 6 to 8 p.m. the band, Prejieli (which means “friends” in Yugoslavian), played Croatian music. Finishing out the day’s tunefest was Music Plus, playing contemporary, 1950s, 1960s and top 40s songs from 8:15 to 11 p.m.
Local restaurants brought out samples of their foods to sell. The Canton Restaurant on Ogden Avenue brought Chinese; Lilett Candies on Broadway brought caramel apples and ice cream; Dav-N-Lo on Ogden fried their mouth-watering chicken and shrimp, and served corn on the cob; John’s Pizza and Restaurant on Ogden Avenue sold beef and sausage sandwiches for $2, lasagna for $2, and hot pizza slices for $1.50; and J and J’s Finer Meats and Deli sold barbecued ribs for $3.50, and rib eye steak for $3, right outside their shop at 3731 Grand Boulevard.
More traditional fare was offered by Sparkey’s Dog House on Burlington, selling their famous “Snappy” Vienna Beef hot dogs for $1.15, Italian beef, bags of chips and something relatively new at the time, tamales for 75 cents.
Cans of soda (RC Cola, Diet Rite and 7 Up), and many-flavored snow cones relieved youngster’s thirsts, while cups of cold Old Style beer were downed by the more legally aged. People could either carry their food and wander at will, or could sit at one of the many picnic benches spread out along the sides of the boulevard.
Local organizations also set up stands along the sidewalk, such as the Brookfield Historical Society, the village’s Recycling Committee and the Brookfield Kiwanis Club, which sold boxes of “fresh-popped popcorn for 50 cents.” At the Chamber of Commerce building at 3724 Grand Boulevard, the day’s Cubs game was broadcast over a loudspeaker.
A minor problem was the carnival entertainment set up at the north end of the street, where only one game trailer and one ride were set up, both doing only a minimal amount of business. The ride was geared toward the under 8-year-old set, and no self-respecting child over the age would dare be seen on it.
It was just a day for any village resident to come out and enjoy a little fun, food, music, dancing and shopping while strolling down the middle of one of the busiest streets in town. One small boy of around 3 years old took the opportunity to lie down in the middle of the traffic-less street, right on the double yellow line. This brought laughs from his sister, parents and passers-by. His sister, a mature girl of 5 whole years old, pulled him up off the street, telling him to “come on,” and he eventually did. Not having to worry about fast-moving vehicles on one of the busiest streets in the village seemed to be a novel experience for everyone.
Quite a mix of people came out to see what was going on: the casually curious; parents with their children of all ages, the youngest being in strollers; kids on bikes; and teenage girls in “Guns N Roses” and “Colourful Lake Geneva” T-shirts, looking over both the event and any teenage boys who happened to be roaming around.
At the day’s conclusion, it was deemed a definite success, and it was said that the next year’s would be even bigger. Not a bad ending for something “thrown together in a few months,” according to President Close.
The second Village Block Party was held on Saturday, Aug. 18, 1990, with the same beautiful weather as had existed for the first party. This second one also lasted from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. As promised, it had gotten bigger. Some stores that had not participated in the first Block Party now jumped on board, such as the Oasis Restaurant, at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Prairie Avenue (later to be Luna); the American Video Shop (selling cotton candy and snow cones) at 3750 Grand Blvd.; the Gold Coast Jewelers at 3742 Grand Blvd.; and The Video Shop (selling movie memorabilia and pre-recorded video tapes) at 3736 Grand Blvd. A new food vendor was Domino’s Pizza from 8919 Ogden Ave..
The kids had it better than ever, with face painting and arts and crafts as new attractions. At the north end, more carnival rides and game trailers were set up. Added to last year’s same ride for small children was a reduced-size small Ferris wheel, with all the compartments screened in so children couldn’t fall out. But a big kids’ ride rose high into the air, called the “Rock N Roll,” consisting of eight egg-shaped cars that could be swung back and forth by their more adventurous occupants.
This year the Croatian band, Prejieli, was gone, along with Shotgun Justice, and Larry “Michael Jackson” Dvorak. New on the scene were the Little Kings of Soul, from 2 to 4 p.m., and Jerry and the Echoes at 5 to 7 p.m. As last year, Toby Rhodes began the party’s music, with the band Music Plus playing the finale.
Even the basic nighttime atmosphere of the street was changed. Strings of electric lightbulbs, but not small, colored Christmas tree lights, were strung up and down the block, across Grand Boulevard. As the early evening’s twilight deepened into darkness, the lights spread a quaint, romantic glow over everything.
This year’s Village Block Party was also judged as being a success, but not such a financial one. For this and lesser reasons there never was to be a third party. Some of the Village Block Party concept was downsized and moved north, to the Eight Corners area, where on Saturday, Aug. 7, 1993, the Eight Corners Street Fair was held, sponsored by the businesses there.
From Aug. 18-22, 1993, the Brookfield Centennial Festival at Jaycee/Ehlert Park easily dwarfed both the old Village Block Party and the new Street Fair. That festival made such a terrific impression that in 1994, the first ever Brookfest was held, also at Jaycee/Ehlert Park.
As has happened in the past, yet another Brookfield festival has come to an end. The annual days of Brookfest are over. But as history shows, some other celebration always seems to appear, taking the place of the one that has gone. What will this new one be? Maybe next July or August, a simple, local, neighborly party might be the answer.