Legendary Mineola Hotel condemned in Fox Lake
Fox Lake officials said they only had the safety of customers in mind when they condemned the 135-year-old Mineola Hotel and Lounge this week.
Hotel owner Pete Jakstas, however, is mad the village didn't give him a chance to fix up the deteriorating building -- thought to be among the oldest wooden structures in Illinois -- before slapping the red condemnation sticker on its side, effectively putting him out of business.
"After being here for 68 years, you'd think they'd give me the common courtesy to give me some time to fix some of the problems they noticed," Jakstas said, sitting at his desk at the Mineola Marina, in the shadow of the now condemned hotel at 91 Cora Ave.
"Nope. They just walked in and shut me down. They say this administration is pro business, but obviously, it's not."
Fox Lake Building Commissioner Frank Urbina said the Mineola, built in 1884 on the shores of the Chain O' Lakes, got its annual building inspection on April 11. The inspector saw numerous issues with the roof, windows, siding and mold inside the structure.
In addition, Urbina said the inspector requested access to the blocked-off third and fourth floors of the four-story building, but Jakstas denied it, claiming those areas were off limits.
The hotel part of the building is not in operation, but the lounge has been.
In a letter, Urbina said Jakstas denied the inspector access because those areas were deemed "unsafe," but Jakstas said the inspector was told no one was allowed on the third or fourth floor unless Jakstas' own insurance company signs off.
"I don't let anyone up on the third or fourth floors unless my insurance company OKs it," he said.
Through broken windows on the outside, the inspector saw saturated wood and plaster, Urbina said, due to the numerous holes in the windows, wooden siding and roof.
He said damaged ceiling tiles throughout the first and second floors of the old hotel were also saturated, leading Urbina to believe the entire wooden structure has become saturated and therefore unstable.
In a letter drafted to Jakstas when he red-tagged the Mineola, Urbina said in his professional opinion, the structure is "so damaged, decayed, dilapidated and is structurally unsafe to the point where collapse of the structure is possible."
Under village code, Jakstas now has 30 days to either bring in a structural engineer to outline a plan to have the building repaired, or must plan for the building's demolition.
"I don't want someone to get hurt in there, or for the village to be sued should someone get hurt in there," Urbina said. "It's a life-safety hazard, it's not structurally sound, and it was in the best interest to be condemned."
The Mineola is the fifth structure to be condemned without written notice in the village of Fox Lake since Urbina took over the building department three years ago. He said the Marina Motel on Route 12, Blueberry Hill Tavern on Nippersink Drive, the Aquarium Bar on Forest Drive and the abandoned Big Hollow School on Route 12 were all condemned without previous warning.
Big Hollow School has since been demolished; the other three were brought up to code and reopened.
Jakstas said the holes in the roof, siding and windows are all just cosmetic problems, and do not speak to the structural soundness of the Mineola.
However, he said, it's unclear whether he will bring in a structural engineer to prove the hotel is safe.
Built in 1884, the landmark hotel has long been the location of the annual Chain O' Lakes fireworks on the Fourth of July, as well as numerous public and private events.
It was also one of the many locations in Fox Lake and Ingleside where reputed mob boss Al Capone would spend his vacations. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Urbina said he has contacted the U.S. Department of the Interior, which handles that list, regarding the condemnation.
Mayor Ed Bender said Thursday he was truly upset to have the Mineola condemned, but said he doesn't want anyone to get hurt.
"I don't like to see it closed down," Bender said. "But, to protect the life and safety of the public, we did the right thing."