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Friday, June 3, 2011

Mineola Hotel - The Lady of the Lakes

In recent months, there has been talk of razing the legendary Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake. This would be a terrible loss for Lake County's heritage.

Mineola Hotel, 1913 (LCDM 96.12.2)

For those not familiar with the grand dame, the Mineola is located at 91 N. Cora Avenue, Fox Lake, and was built in 1884 by Members of the Chicago Board of Trade. At the time, the Chain o' Lakes had a booming resort industry, due largely to increased access to the area by train. In 1882, the Wisconsin Central (later Soo Line) Railroad opened.

The 100-room hotel boasted of hot and cold running water, a beautiful natural setting, boating, fishing and hunting opportunities, all for the affordable rate of $2 and up per day. It is believed the hotel's veranda was designed by Alphonse Howe & Charles Caskey, the architects of the famed Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island. The hotel was built as a private clubhouse for Chicago’s elite, but by 1891 it had been sold to Edson C. Howard, who remodeled it into a public hotel.

View of Fox Lake shoreline and the Mineola Hotel, circa1910 (LCDM 2002.12.3)

As early as the 1910s, Fox Lake was known for its drinking and gambling establishments. The Chicago Tribune reported it was “…worse than in the levee districts of the city.” The situation in Fox Lake was in part due to Chicago’s efforts to “clean up” its own vice districts, which caused those districts to re-settle in the suburbs. The newspaper article added, “Probably the most vicious resort is the Mineola Hotel. All of the hotels are supplied with slot machines.”

During Prohibition (1920-1933), the lakes region became a notorious hangout for Chicago mobsters. The Mineola was reportedly a hideaway for Al Capone (1899-1947) and his gang, who could freely gamble and drink the nights away.

Reverse side of Mineola Hotel postcard, circa 1910. "I am up here for a week. Nice place and I'm having a good time. H. T. Webb." (LCDM 2002.12.3)

In 1943, the Mineola was purchased by the Jakstas Family, who have owned it ever since. The family has fended off the bulldozers many times through the decades. One scare came in 1953, when a hotel guest set a fire on the third floor, which luckily was contained.

A decline in tourism in the early 1960s made it difficult to keep the business going, and by 1969, the Jakstas's were prepared to demolish the hotel, going so far as to sell off the original furniture. Mrs. Emma Jakstas was quoted by the Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1969: "We regret tearing down the hotel, but it is a real tinder box... It would be too expensive to remodel this mammoth place."

Peter and Emma Jakstas's son, Peter, was convinced the family should keep the building. They closed off the hotel portion to the public, but kept open the first floor restaurant and bar, and second floor banquet facility.

The Mineola is 225 feet long and four stories high, and is considered the largest wooden structure in Illinois. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The Register is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation, and is administered by the National Park Service.

Aerial view of Mineola Hotel and surrounding property, circa 1935 (LCDM 92.27.53)

Though it's been the dream of the Jakstas family to fully restore the building those efforts have been met with mixed success and much difficulty. After 68 years in the family's ownership, Pete Jakstas is considering retirement and the sale of the hotel, marina and surrounding 17-acres.


Anonymous said...

I lived in Fox Lake for 3 years (1982-1985) on Lippencott which if you go to the end of the road you can see the lake. I remember going to the Minneola when it was only opened as a bar. There were still tattered old gauzy looking curtains blowing in the forever open windows on upper floors of what were hotel rooms. I tried to imagine how it must have been in the old days, amazing.

Anonymous said...

I lived on North Ave from 1955-1963. Winters were spent skating in front of the Mineola Hotel. We traded in our skates at the Hardware store in town each year. One Christmas, the Jaktas' encircled the skating rink with fir trees, piped music filled the air and we played crack the whip into piles of snow. Hot chocolate from the bar and weekends watching the ice boat races. And who can forget the walk home along Cora Ave "Snow Dances" to bring on snow storms to get a day off school???? I still love Fox Lake and the Mineola Hotel!!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the area and my family and I went to Mineola all the time. I just wish I could have seen it as a hotel, what it was like in the past. It makes me sad that they closed it down. It was a big part of my childhood. I wish someone could buy it again and renovate it to it's natural glory. It is such a beautiful building.

Anonymous said...

Lake County....Buy it and make it a beach front park for the public please