FOX LAKE – It was a trip to the Fox Lake movie theater that initiated Wildwood resident Kathy Thoman’s quest to save the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake.
The hotel was constructed in 1884 as the Mineola Club, a private clubhouse for members of the Chicago Board of Trade and their families. In May 2012, the village deemed it unsafe and closed it.
It was during a hectic morning last summer right after it closed that led her to Fox Lake and a talk with owner Pete Jakstas.
As an architecture historian and owner of Character Builders, a company that recycles material from soon-to-be-demolished or renovated buildings, Thoman is accustomed to working with old, decrepit buildings. But she was too late. It had been closed; its windows and doors boarded up.
Sanchez Olson: What was it that made you want to start this project to save the Mineola?
Thoman: The fact that this building could be lost. It’s the last one of its kind from the resort era. It’s the only one that when you walk in, it looks just like it did back in the day. All the other ones have been torn down, turned into private homes or remodeled to the point where they don’t look like anything that use to be back in that era, so to lose the last one was heartbreaking for me. I don’t want that for me, for my kids or for the people of Fox Lake. So, I sat and thought about that all weekend, whether I wanted to or not, it was in my head just bugging me. By Monday [in June 2012] I had planned to save it.
Sanchez Olson: Where are you in that process?
Thoman: Well, it’s my first save, so I’m learning as I go along. The most amazing thing [she and Save the Mineola partner Rachel Lutz] got to do was go to Springfield for the announcement that Landmarks Illinois put [the Mineola Hotel] on the most endangered list. It is one of the 10 most endangered landmarks for 2013. That was quite an experience to look down at the Senate floor where they make laws and to have a meeting in the senator’s office. It was really cool to bring my kids with me. We are a not-for-profit corporation, and right now we’re in the middle of applying for charitable status. The problem is it costs $800 to apply, and if you screw up, that money is gone. It’s a big responsibility.
Sanchez Olson: Are you then working with the Jakstas family to save it?
Thoman: On the board is myself, Rachel Lutz andJoy Hamm Scherer. There are 1,200 [people] that support it [through Facebook], but there are only about five people who are doing all thework. I’ve gotten to know the family very well and I’ve neverseen a family work harder.
Sanchez Olson: What are some of the stories you’ve heard?
Thoman: A man out of nowhere said to me, “My grandfather took my father, and my father took me, and then I took my son there for his first drink.”
A woman in her 80s told me she remembers going to the Mineola with her husband to the Firefighters Ball, and when she was a little girl, she would go with her grandmother, who liked to play the slot machines. That’s what the Mineola was famous for, the slot machines. When her grandmother would win, all these nickels would come flying down and she would try to catch them all with her dress.
People ask me about bringing back the fireworks, but I tell them one thing at a time.
There are a couple different developers looking at the property right now. Landmarks Illinois has been instrumental every step of the way they sent an independent party to look at it and it was found structurally sound. They’re also talking to developers on our behalf.
Sanchez Olson: The old administration was known to be in agreement with the closing of the hotel. What is your relationship like with the new administration?
Thoman: The new administration has been nothing but kind to us and have bent over backward to help us. For example, we are planning a rummage sale on Sept. 27 through 29, and I told them about it. At first they said businesses having outdoor sales is prohibited, but we worked together to find a loophole because we are a nonprofit. We have a Motorcycle Poker Run on Oct. 19, and I really wanted to have it in the parking lot of the Mineola. The administration tried to help make that happen, but because we no longer have a permit for the kitchen or the alcohol, it couldn’t be. We’re having it at the Route 12 Grill, and we’re so thankful to them. I don’t think anyone wants to be the administration who demolished the Lady of the Lake.
Sanchez Olson: How can people help save the Mineola?
Thoman: They can buy a T-shirt from the website (www.savethemineola.org) or from the save the Mineola facebook page or call 847-750-6463. We have eight different designs and they’re $20. People can come to our events. If they have items to donate to the rummage sale, call me. If people can bake, bake something for the rummage sale bake sale. Be a walking billboard for the Mineola. At the rummage sale, people can walk around the outside and see what they’re supporting. Maybe later we can give walking tours of the outside; that may be the biggest fundraiser we can do. Another really cool thing we’re trying to do is have “Ghost Hunters” or “The Dead Files” and Lake County Paranormal come out. It would be amazing if the Mineola was on TV.
(NOTE TO READERS: This story was corrected to fix factual errors. The number of people who support the cause on Facebook is 1,200, and the phone number to call to buy a T-shirt is 847-750-6463.)