FOX LAKE – This weekend, the landmark Mineola Hotel will serve its last food and drinks. It will close indefinitely after last call Sunday under a court settlement reached this week.
Attorneys for the village of Fox Lake and Mineola owner Pete Jakstas Sr. agreed Wednesday that the historic lakeside business will shut down because of lingering structural safety concerns.
“The village is putting me out of business,” Jakstas said Thursday. From the sound of his voice, it was clear that the 75-year-old still was trying to come to grips with the news.
The Mineola, 91 Cora Ave., has been in the Jakstas family for 69 years and was run as a family business for decades before that.
Jakstas planned to keep it that way, but a lawsuit filed Feb. 2 by the village of Fox Lake over the restaurant and former hotel’s structural condition changed that.
“Unfortunately, you can’t fight small-town politics,” he said. “I can’t wait to sell it and get out of this town.”
In April 2011, the village placed condemned signs on the Mineola Hotel, saying that it was at risk of collapsing.
Jakstas, of Fox Lake, later brought in a certified structural engineer to inspect the building, and the engineer reported no structural distress, sagging, bowing or problems that would indicate the building wasn’t sound.
Once Jakstas filed the engineer’s report with Fox Lake, officials removed the “condemned” signs.
The engineer pointed out instances of water damage, windows that needed to be replaced and other problems, but Jakstas has worked toward fixing them, he said.
“Last year I spent more than 500 man-hours to paint the building, close up the areas that the village said were bad. I spent thousands of dollars in materials, and it still wasn’t fast enough,” he said.
In February, Fox Lake officials filed suit in Lake County Circuit Court after what officials reported as failed attempts to bring Jakstas into compliance with village code violations.
“If I had known a year ago that it would end like this, I never would have done anything,” Jakstas said. The property is fully insured, he said.
“Basically, the village scared the courts,” Jakstas said. At pretrial, the court took the position that “if there is a chance of someone getting hurt, they did not want to rule and put the court system in jeopardy – make them liable – if something did happen,” he said.
Fox Lake Mayor Ed Bender said earlier this month that he preferred that Jakstas complied with ordinances and continue running the operation.
“That would be my personal preference, and I think that would have been the Village Board’s preference, but for whatever reason, he has chosen not to do it,” Bender said.
Shortly after the suit was filed, the Jakstas family decided to put the Mineola up for sale on online auction website eBay as a way to get out from under the financial and emotional strain of fighting with the village, Jakstas said.
The Mineola is 128 years old and is believed to be the largest wood-frame building in the state.
The hotel was built in 1884 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior and it approved by Congress on Jan. 29, 1979, Jakstas said.
There is a $2 million starting bid on the 17-acre property, which sits along the Chain O’ Lakes. The property includes a restaurant, full-service marina and a home with five bedrooms, according to the eBay listing.
As of Thursday morning, 493 eBay users had placed the item on their “watch” list.
“We have had calls from [interested parties] in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York ... so there have been a lot of inquiries, and they have wanted more pictures and more information on it,” Jakstas said.
The Mineola also is famous for its connection to gangster Al Capone, who once used the property as a safe house.
The Mineola in total is about 28,000 square feet, but Jakstas only uses about 1,500 of that for the restaurant that he and his family operate today.
The Mineola Marina is owned and operated by Jakstas’ son and will remain open after the restaurant and lounge close this weekend, Jakstas said.
“Starting tomorrow, we will have what we are calling the ‘Eat and Drink the Mineola Dry Party,’ ” Jakstas said.
He said he will try to sell the remaining food and liquor supplies as the iconic restaurant serves its last patrons.