Will designation as one of the most endangered historic structures help the Mineola?
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The Mineola Hotel has been a local landmark and one of the most recognizable structures in Fox Lake since it was built as a private clubhouse in 1884.
But what was said to be a favorite haunt of gangsters during Prohibition closed more than half a century ago. And for the past year, a banquet hall and tavern operating there have been shuttered, the result of village action against the owner regarding the building's structural integrity.
Despite its history, the future of the old hotel has been in doubt, and that led Chicago-based Landmarks Illinois to include the Mineola on its 2013 list of the 10 most endangered historic places.
Will it make any difference with what happens next? It's too soon to tell. But early signs are the nonprofit group has raised public awareness and rekindled interest in the role the once "Grand Lady of the Lakes" can or should play in a bigger picture.
"I've been amazed at how many people have come down, driven around, taken pictures and moved on," said Pete Jakstas, whose family bought the building in 1943. "When this hit, it woke people up — curiosity at least, what it's all about."
Though the organization can't dictate any action regarding such structures, Landmarks Illinois' findings and reach potentially can be influential. In the 18 years the most endangered list has been issued, the results have been mixed, with some structures saved, some demolished and some in flux, according to Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy.
"Location, politics, market conditions, all of those things come into play," she said.
The group's involvement with the Mineola isn't expected to end with the listing. Landmarks Illinois plans to meet with village officials and advocates in coming weeks to get a handle on the condition of the building and determine what it can recommend as a result.
"It needs investment, and a lot of that investment dollar amount in the end will be predicated on what the use should or could be," DiChiera said.
The organization can offer various types of assistance, such as an extensive reuse study — as was done for Cook County Hospital — as well as smaller studies or "condition assessments" that can identify immediate or longer term repairs, according to DiChiera.
Landmarks Illinois, for example, provided reports ranging from condition assessments to reuse recommendations to a fundraising action plan for six properties on the 2011 and 2012 endangered lists. The reports are intended to guide advocates on the next steps.
"There does need to be some kind of analysis of what kind of redevelopment would this building best support," DiChiera said of the Mineola.
Fox Lake trustee and mayor-elect Donald "Donny" Schmit, a lifelong resident, says the village will be aggressive in trying to fill empty spots in town. A joint meeting of the village board and plan commission with developers and property owners is scheduled for May 21.
"We're going to move forward with the marketing plan and have the Mineola listed as a development opportunity," he said. While in favor of having something done, the village likely couldn't contribute funding to any effort.
"It would be nice if we could restore it, if it could be restored. Maybe someone with a big checkbook wants a project," Schmit said.
As for structures in Lake County that have made Landmarks Illinois' endangered lists, two have been saved (Fort Sheridan, Bluff's Edge Bridge in Lake Forest); two have been partially or fully demolished (Sacred Heart Chapel at Barat College and Gunners' Mates School Building 521 at Great Lakes Naval Station); and another remains threatened (Blair House, Lake Bluff).
The former Libertyville Township High School (Brainerd building), which made the group's watch list in 2009-10, still is considered threatened.
"The main intent is to bring public attention to a threatened historic resource," DiChiera said. "We would hope this listing brings it (Mineola) broader exposure and opportunity."
Because the Mineola is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a federal tax credit of up to 20 percent could be available, DiChiera said.
Such credits often can make or break the planned rehab of a historic building, she added, noting efforts are ongoing to establish a state historical rehab tax credit to potentially couple with federal funds.
Raising awareness was the goal of Kathryn Thoman of Wildwood and Rachel Lutz of Lindenhurst, who didn't know each other but separately became interested in the Mineola. They became partners in the Mineola Preservation Project and nominated the building for the designation.
"Absolutely, without a doubt it (Landmarks Illinois listing) gave us a boost," Thoman said. "Miracles don't happen overnight. People are far more aware of it."
Thoman said the meeting with Landmarks and others would "let everybody get familiar and get the ball rolling."
Her hope would be for the building to be "taken from the brink of destruction and made something beautiful," such as was done with the Lehmann Mansion in Lake Villa or Genesee Theater in Waukegan.
"I definitely feel the building should be saved," says Jakstas, who at 76 would rather someone else take on the project. What's next is unknown, however, until the village shutdown order is addressed, he said.
"I'm in limbo right now. I don't have any answers."
Nothing will happen until the economy picks up, he added. And how might the Mineola look in the future?
"It all depends on what they want to do with it and how much backing they have financially," he said of potential investors.
"As with anything, it's all about money."
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