Hangin' Out at The Barn
Naperville 50 Years Ago
History looks back at the 1960s as a decade of change and Naperville was changing, too. The population of our little town grew 75%, from 12,933 people in 1960 to 22,617 by 1970, aided by the beginning of the suburban development explosion.
Since we are celebrating Summer Place Theatre's 50th Anniversary this season, we thought we'd look back a few times the next weeks to see what Naperville was like in 1966.
With all of these young families moving out to the new subdivisions, Naperville was suddenly faced with many more restless teenagers. Teen centers where local bands played were very popular during these years and many other suburban communities had them. To give Naperville kids someplace to congregate other than the Washington Street bridge, which was a favorite hang-out, a group of citizens built The Barn.
The Barn is part of the Park District today, but the idea was actually proposed and carried out by "youths of the community" and an adult advisory board. No tax money was used. Instead, 300 students sold $48,000 in general obligation bonds by going door-to-door. Sources at the time said it was "the largest sum ever raised in Naperville."
Not everyone was on board with the project however, and there were a couple of location changes to appease residents who were concerned about crowds of teenagers, loud rock 'n' roll music and the rural barn look. Then-mayor Zaininger actually walked out of a City Council meeting because he couldn't get enough support for the The Barn's lease petition.
An agreement was eventually reached and the Naperville Youth Organization received a 20-year lease on the property for $10 per year, although the Naperville Park District took over operation of The Barn by 1969.
Once they were given the go-ahead, the Youth, mainly from Naperville Central High School which was the only high school in 1966, joined adult volunteers in raising the building. No doubt some of the brick-hauling and scaffold-climbing by volunteers would not be allowed, but plenty of kids spent their summer on the site, including what the high school yearbook called "muscle-bound suffragettes."
Although there were issues getting enough help over the summer, (kids will be kids) The Barn was finished in time to hold their first dance on December 4, 1965. It was extremely well-attended. To continue funding, refreshments were sold at dances and tickets to special events as well as memberships were also sold.
In 2010, a “Barnstock” event let folks relive the glory days by bringing back a bunch of bands that originally performed there during the years from 1965 to 1973. The Barn is slated for demolition once Ribfest is over this year, but there are plans in the works to have one final Community Celebration before that happens.
The enthusiasm of young people in the 1960s helped bring The Barn plan to fruition and that same enthusiasm was tapped by Doc Shanower to launch Summer Place Theatre, too. The mid '60s must have been a remarkable time here in Naperville!
(Since this article was written, NCTV17 filmed a min-documentary on The Barn. You can enjoy it here.)
photos from the 1966 Arrowhead yearbook and The Sun archives