Carter's play involves three modern-day Lane Tech students who explore the Riverview grounds and encounter a ghost from the amusement park's past. The play touches on the rumors of racial tensions at the park, which some have cited as the reason behind Riverview's closing in 1967.

Those tensions were symbolized by one of the controversial attractions at the park — the African Dip, where patrons threw balls at a target in order to dunk an African-American man in a tank of water. The exhibit was closed in the late 1950s amid pressure from leaders in the black community.

It's one of the many theories about why the park closed. Others have speculated that Riverview closed for purely financial reasons — although still profitable at the end (it attracted more than 1.7 million people in its last year), the land had become more valuable than the amusement park.

Others have cited the changing North Center neighborhood — once dominated by German, Italians and other European ethnic groups — which saw an influx of Hispanics and other minorities by the 1960s.

And Riverview owner Bill Schmidt told reporters in 1967 that increased violence and disorder in the park — primarily from bands of teenagers — contributed to its closing.

"I think the owner of the park just got tired of running it," Lopez said of Schmidt, whose family had owned Riverview from the beginning, when it opened it 1904 as Riverview Sharpshooters Park.

But racial issues were what stuck with the playwright.

"I got really interested in how strongly people felt about that," Carter said. "I realized we were reading our own views of racial history into our own views of the park."

Only a few blocks from Belmont and Western, Greg Lamacki celebrates the amusement park's memory with his Riverview Tavern, on Roscoe Street near Damen Avenue.

Lamacki, who opened the tavern in 2002, has filled it with memorabilia from the old park — things like Kewpie dolls handed out from games of skill on the midway more than 50 years ago, the door of one of the Bobs cars hanging over a dining booth, and a huge mural of the park grounds on a wall.

He describes the tavern as an "homage" to the place where, as its unofficial slogan said, you could "Laugh Your Troubles Away." His patrons, many of whom live in the now-gentrified Roscoe Village neighborhood and increasingly gentrified North Center community, appreciate these visual reminders of the area's past.

"Riverview is a part of Chicago lore," Lamacki said. "We have a clientele that's primarily 35 and younger, but they all get the appeal of Riverview. They think it's neat that we had something like Coney Island here in the neighborhood not too long ago."

The memorabilia owned by people like Lopez and Lamacki and the on-site foundations in Clark Park aren't the only examples of physical legacies from Riverview. One of the most memorable is out of state: an ornate, 103-year-old carousel that was a major attraction at Riverview for decades and is now a feature at Six Flags Over Georgia.

Perhaps the most noticeable Riverview remnant in Chicago is the Western Avenue overpass. Constructed around 1960 over the intersecting streets of Belmont, Western and Clybourn avenues, it was expressly built for Riverview, according to Chicago Department of Transportation officials.

The overpass was intended to funnel non-Riverview traffic over the park's entrance and onto northbound Western Avenue. But the overpass became obsolete once the park closed.

Now the Chicago Department of Transportation has a goal of demolishing the viaduct by 2013 — a $20 million plan hinging on federal, state and city funding. The idea is to rebuild the intersection by adding a third traffic lane in each direction on Western.

Lopez said Riverview's owners didn't like the overpass, even though it was built for the park.

"It made it harder for people on foot coming on public transportation to cross Western to get through to the main gates," Lopez said. "Even though there was parking for cars, Riverview was easy to get to by public transportation — there were three streetcar lines alone going by the park.

"That was another thing that made it special."

jowens@tribune.com