Olde Schaumburg Centre: America’s Least Impressive Historic District?

At the intersection of Roselle and Schaumburg Roads in Schaumburg, Illinois, you’ll find one of America’s least impressive historic districts. I was en route to Oberweis, a Chicago-area chain ice cream parlor my wife and I like when we noticed a sign indicated that the strip mall that Oberweis was located in was called the “town square” and surrounding area was dubbed “Olde Schaumburg Centre” (OSC).

I lived in Chicago twice, and Schaumburg is often held up as a prototypically boring, soulless suburb, and I certainly was never aware of the fact that it had a historic district. When I saw the OSC sign, I looked around, but couldn’t see anything “olde” at all – just the typical, mundane collection of strip malls that nearly every suburb in America has these days. I parked the car, got my ice cream and then risked my life crossing busy Roselle Road in search of something, anything “olde.”I found a handful of century-old buildings across the street from the “Town Square” but one can’t help but notice that the history of the village founded by German immigrants in the 19th Century has been almost completely swallowed up by modern developments. The OSC’s website lists just 11 “historic” buildings and the anchor of the “Town Center” is an Applebee’s.

According to a plaque in a man-made lake across a vast parking lot next to the Oberweis, the strip mall dates to 1995. At the rate we’re going in this country, with strip malls being built from sea to shining sea, that could practically qualify the place for The National Register of Historic Places.

Outside of major American cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and several others, the whole country might be just one big beige mélange of big box retailers by the time my children retire.

I don’t blame local officials in Schaumburg for trying to create a “village center,” and the fact that they are paying lip service about creating a “pedestrian orientation” is a good sign. And to be fair, there’s a nice park in the area and my kids enjoyed running around the fountain near the lake. But what’s the point of trying to market a thoroughly modern suburb as a historic place?

Memorial Day barbecue problems? Call the Weber Grill hot line

This Memorial Day weekend, I’m honoring our fallen heroes by exalting the art of grilling. Being a good grill master is how the average American male proves his manhood (in public, that is). Never mind that plenty of women can and do wield the tongs in the family (I do); being unable to operate a barbecue and produce an edible–if not outright delicious–end result is about as emasculating as it gets.

That is why I’m telling you about the Weber Grill hot line (1-800-GRILL-OUT, or email grillout@weber.com). The New York Times reports that the Schaumburg, Illinois-based company receives about 500,000 calls (mostly from men) a year and 75,000 e-mails. Operators–including Ms. Olsen, a 67-year old woman who’s been on the job for 14 years–deal with frantic issues related to everything from improper flaming to how to cook a squirrel.

Memorial Day is the busiest time of the year, but Weber wants people who sell their products to know what exactly they’re dealing with. The Grill Academy opened in Schaumburg in January, in order to educate salespeople about the care and feeding of Weber grills.. According to school director Kevin Kolman, students need to study hard, so they can answer questions such as, “What is the definition of a flavorizer bar?’ or ‘What is the importance of a damper system in a charcoal grill?”

Tough stuff. So should you find yourself slaving over a hot grill this weekend, and things aren’t going as they should, give Ms. Olsen a ring. Or allow your girlfriend or wife to take over.

[Photo credit: Flickr user rachelandrew]

Check out a clip from the UK Weber Grill Academy.

Chicago is home to the first indoor Legoland in North America

Last month, Lego opened its first US based Legoland Discovery Center in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.

This large indoor venue is home to 8 Lego themed attractions, and should provide some Lego fun for visitors young and old. In the name of scientific research, I visited Legoland during their “soft opening” week at the end of July.

The location is right next to Woodfield Mall, and is in the middle of the Streets of Woodfield entertainment district. There is ample free parking. Schaumburg is about 20 miles from downtown Chicago, but there is no easy public transport system linking the two, unless you don’t mind a 45 minute CTA ride, a 30 minute bus ride and a 10 minute trolley ride.

This is the third Legoland Discovery center in the world; previous venues opened in Berlin and Duisburg in Germany. They are operated by the Merlin Entertainments group, who also own the Madame Tussauds wax museums.

The Chicago Legoland Discovery Center is quite easy to spot, partly thanks to the 30 foot giraffe built over the entrance. Once inside, you pass through “Mini Land”, which consists of almost all famous Chicago landmarks, recreated with 1.5 million Lego bricks.

Next up is Adventure Trail, where “Johnny Thunder” introduces himself, and warns you about the dangers of the Lego jungle. Kids will love having their photo taken next to a Lego lion, parrot and various other “wild” animals.

Once you leave the jungle, you arrive in the atrium where several full scale Lego heroes are on display, including Batman and Harry Potter. This is yet another great photo opportunity. This is also where you will find the Dragon Ride. This ride is not as scary as the name implies, and has no age/height restrictions. The 4 person cars take you through several castle scenes at 2 mph, and bring you up close and personal with a massive “fire” breathing Lego dragon.

The rest of the center is upstairs, where you’ll find the Lego 4D theater. This movie theater combines a 3D Lego movie with several other effects, I’ll leave it at that, as I don’t want to spoil any surprises. When you enter the theater, you are handed 3D glasses, but smaller kids will need some help keeping the glasses on. Without the special glasses, the movie looks blurry. The movie lasts 15 minutes and lines to get in can be fairly long, so get in line as soon as you can.

Across from the theater is the Lego factory tour. In this room, a Legoland employee explains how Lego blocks are made, and several machines show the process. Kids are invited to participate by pressing some of the buttons, and at the end of the narration, everyone receives a special Chicago Legoland brick.

The rest of the attractions are across the central hall. This large and bright room has something for everyone. If you are tired, you’ll be able to grab a snack from the Lego cafe. Toddlers can run around in the soft climb and slide zone and larger kids (or adults) can build Lego cars and race against others on a massive inclined racetrack.

There are tables with Lego buckets everywhere, and several soft Duplo building zones for smaller kids. In the rear corner is an entire area where toddlers and infants can play with extra large foam Lego blocks. They’ll have a blast building towers and walls here (I know I did!)

When you leave Legoland, you pass through the obligatory gift shop, which sells some fairly hard to find Lego items, so prepare to deal with begging kids and parting with more of your money.

Admission to the Chicago Legoland Discovery Center is $19 for adults and $15.00 for kids. Children 2 and under are free. I found the admission price to be fairly high; a family with 2 kids will cost $68 to get in, and you’ll have a hard time keeping the kids entertained for more than 2 or 3 hours. The Legoland Discovery Center is open 7 days a week from 10am till 8pm, but ticket sales end at 6pm.

Lines to get into the Legoland Discovery Center are often wrapped around the building. so I strongly advise purchasing your tickets in advance, as you’ll then be able to skip the long line for the ticket desk. If you arrive with pre-purchased tickets, you can enter through the right hand set of doors. This online advance purchase service also sells off-peak tickets, if you arrive past 3:30pm, you’ll save $2.50 on each ticket.

All in all I found the Legoland Discovery Center quite enjoyable, as did my 2 year old daughter. The entrance fee is steep, but unless you plan to fly to California, this is the closest you’ll get to Legoland in the Midwest.

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