No trip down Route 66 is complete without a stop at the Launching Pad.
The restaurant is a true relic from the retro age of the 1950s and '60s. Now, thanks to new owners, it'll be given new life and relaunched in the spring.
The eatery isn't the sole draw to Wilmington, a small town 20 miles south of Joliet: many visitors come to see the 24-foot-tall statue of a green space man holding a rocket that stands outside of the Launching Pad. The restaurant, located at 810 E. Baltimore St. (Route 66), dates to 1960 when it opened as Dairy Delite before getting renamed the Launching Pad in 1965.
That's also the year a previous owner purchased the large, fiberglass statute and placed it outside to draw attention. It originally was one of the "Muffler Men" who were placed primarily outside of auto repair shops as promotional pieces. It's now one of three surviving examples located on Route 66 and is one of the top five Route 66 attractions in the state.
Though traffic along Route 66 dwindled after construction of the interstate system -- I-55 is close by -- the diner survived until 2010, when it first closed. It remained a popular cruising destination and photo opportunity for both locals and out-of-state (and country) tourists. This week, Tully Garrett and Holly Barker became the proud new owners and have big plans for the site.
After a full overhaul, it'll be reopened next spring, serving up iconic diner fare. Tully did a stint in the music industry and will have a mini-museum inside showcasing some of his extensive music memorabilia. There's also plans to host car shows on-site.
"The Gemini Giant is one of the top five Route 66 attractions in the state," said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway. "We are glad to see it remain in Wilmington and get the attention it deserves from the new owners. The Byway wishes them the best of success."
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