Feature Article - September 2003
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Theme Schemes

Creative motifs and clever theming give waterparks and splash play areas new depth

By Stacy St. Clair

History in the making

Not all themes have to be as whimsical as zoo animals and pirate ships. Some of the most successful waterpark themes are borrowed from pages of local history books.

In Glenview, Ill., Williams was tapped to design a recreation facility and natatorium on a property that once had been home to the Glenview Naval Air Station, which trained generations of military pilots and ground crews from 1942 until its closure in 1995.

The airfield served a critical function in World War II, having served as the Primary Training Command. Its alumni lists read likes a who's who of military men. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford, among others, all trained at the station during the war.

The field was also home to Illinois' most famous naval hero, Edward O'Hare, a fighter pilot who saved the USS Lexington from sure annihilation in 1942 and was posthumously honored with an international airport bearing his name. When budget cuts forced the U.S. Navy to close the airfield in 1995, Glenview purchased the property and spent months contemplating how the 1,102-acre property could best be used. Williams Architects designed the Glenview Park Center, a $23-million facility that opened in December 2000.

Situated at the end of a former runway, the architects designed the building's interior as a homage to the property's past. The state-of-the art natatorium celebrates the area's history with an incredible aviation motif. World War II biplane replicas—purchased through a generous donation from a local foundation—hang from the ceiling. The water play area has several aeronautical features, including a small slide designed to make users appear as if they're bailing out of the cockpit.


The natatorium's most beloved feature, however, is the Splash Landings water slide. Williams' firm designed the stairs leading up to the slide as a replica of the Glenview Naval Air Station control tower.

When planning the facility, Williams says he could not ignore the historical significance of the site.

"Here's something that was a huge part of life during World War II and a huge part of life in Glenview," he says. "It was a perfect opportunity to incorporate the air station's history."