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Article updated: 5/1/2013 10:26 AM

Mineola designated among Top 10 endangered historic places in Illinois

By Mick Zawislak

A grass-roots effort to revive the shuttered Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake got a boost of public recognition Tuesday with its inclusion as one of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.

Landmarks Illinois, a not-for-profit group that compiles a top 10 list each year to raise awareness of various structures, noted the importance of the former hotel built in 1884 as an untapped asset and potential boost for the local economy if it could be rehabilitated.

Supporters, including state Sen. Pamela Althoff, spoke in favor of the Mineola during a news conference in Springfield where the list was revealed.

"We've been exploring different financing options and basically getting the feel of what the town thinks," said Kathryn Thoman, co-founder and executive director of the Mineola Preservation Project formed after the building was condemned by the village. "Nobody wants that hotel gone."

While Landmarks Illinois designation carries no regulatory or official power, it can serve as a springboard for renewed public interest, fundraising or potential investors, explained Bonnie McDonald, president of the Chicago-based organization.

"Perhaps the solution here is to have an additional investor to help the owner stabilize the structure. The hope is to see some type of historical hotel or resort ... to create heritage tourism," she said.

The listing describes the Mineola at 91 Cora Ave. as possibly the largest wood-frame building in Illinois. Built as a private clubhouse, it was converted to a public hotel in 1891 serving Chain O' Lakes tourists during the heyday of the Gilded Age. It reportedly became a getaway for Chicago mobsters during Prohibition.

The Jakstas family took title in 1943. Hotel operations ceased in the 1960s, although a first-floor restaurant and marina continued for many years. Last May, Pete Jakstas tried to sell the building on eBay at a low bid of $2 million but did not receive a single offer.

According to the Landmarks listing, a revival of the Mineola could play on the strength of the area waterways and play a key role in redevelopment of Fox Lake.

"Fox Lake has just been dying for a hotel," Thoman said. The designation provides more awareness of the "dire situation" regarding the Mineola, she added. Fixing the roof would cost $300,000, she said.

"They don't call it the 'Lady of the Lake' for nothing," she added.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing for use of federal tax credits.

Thoman said she will work with a newly installed village board on potential actions going forward. She noted structural repair and feasibility studies will be conducted.

"We're going to come up with sort of a battle plan," she said.

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