Monday, March 27, 2023

Mineola Hotel, 91 North Cora Avenue, Fox Lake, Lake County, Illinois.

Thomas Parker purchased a tract of land along Fox Lake on behalf of the Union League Club of Chicago. The club intended to develop the property as a recreational retreat for its members and built a small clubhouse on the site. 

The Chain O'Lakes had a booming resort industry due mainly to increased access to the area in 1882 when the Wisconsin Central (later Soo Line) Railroad opened.
Postcard depicting the original Mineola clubhouse, as constructed in 1884, before renovation in 1901–1903 by Edson and Emma.

The Mineola was built in 1884 (or 1889) by the Mineola Club of Chicago (some have credited it to members of the Chicago Board of Trade).

The 100-room hotel boasted hot and cold running water, a beautiful natural setting, and boating, fishing and hunting opportunities starting at $2 per day. It is believed, but not confirmed, that 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. By 1891 it had been sold to Edson C. Howard, who remodeled it into a public hotel to accommodate the growing number of tourists to the Fox Lake in the Chain O'Lakes area during its Gilded Age heyday. 

Edison Howard bought the hotel, opened it to the public, and built its southern half in 1903.

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 partly 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, and 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 and his gang, who could freely gamble and drink the nights away.

In 1943, the Mineola was purchased by the Jakstas Family, who has owned it ever since. The family has fended off demolition 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' were prepared to raze the hotel, going so far as to sell off the original furniture. Mrs. Emma Jakstas was quoted by the Chicago Tribune on 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."
Dining Room

Peter and Emma Jakstas's son, Peter, was convinced the family should keep the building. They closed the hotel portion to the public but kept the first-floor restaurant, bar, and second-floor banquet facility open until 2012, when the village closed it due to safety concerns.

The Mineola is 225 feet long, four stories high, and considered the largest wooden structure in Illinois. 

The National Park Service listed the hotel on the National Register of Historic Places on July 29, 1979. The Register is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation and is administered by the National Park Service.

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.

On Saturday, the day before closing, the Mineola held an 'Eat and Drink the Mineola Dry Party.' The Hotel closed indefinitely on Sunday, May 21, 2012.

Landmarks Illinois named the hotel one of Illinois's ten most endangered historic places in 2013.

As of May 2022, the Jakstas property was under contract for purchase by developers. The historic Mineola Hotel will be razed, and a new boutique hotel complex will be built "with aesthetic features from the original hotel" incorporated into the new building. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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