Rt. 12's Mom-and-Pop Motels Fading into History
Susnjara, Bob, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Bob Susnjara Daily Herald Staff Writer
An intoxicating smell of oatmeal-raisin cookies wafted from the kitchen at Elizabeth Wertke's Volo home, a mile north of the busy Route 12-Route 120 intersection.
Wertke, 74, interrupted her baking and walked about 25 feet from her kitchen to a front desk lined with tourism brochures, enthusiastically greeting a couple of visitors on a recent warm, sunny day.
For the past 52 years, Wertke's home and business has been the seven-room Skyline Motel. However, her desire to sell the motel and its 24-acre property in booming northern Lake County means this slice of Americana won't be around in a few years.
"It's all going commercial," Wertke said, as her cookies cooled on a wire rack in the kitchen. "The whole acreage is all commercial. There will not be any houses on it. I would not sell it to anybody who would put houses on it."
Wertke's Skyline Motel is part of a fading breed of mom-and-pop lodging operations in Lake County along an approximately 26-mile stretch of Route 12, also called Rand Road. Family-owned commercial lodging is disappearing from other parts of the United States as well.
It would be a shame if all the mom-and-pop motels go away because they are visible reminders of America in the 1940s and '50s, said Andrew Wood, an associate professor in San Jose State University's communication studies department.
"One of the things about contemporary life is the death of history," said Wood, who, with his photographer wife, Jenny, traveled the country and co-authored "Motel America: A State-By- State Tour Guide to Nostalgic Stopovers."
Development and interstate highway travel, where chain hotels dominate, are the main reasons the mom-and-pop motels have faded from Route 12 and elsewhere around the country.
Nonetheless, at least one Route 12 local motel operator is bullish on the business.
Fox Lake Motel co-owner Marie Gabiga said she believes her operation fills a void with clean, basic rooms costing $45 to $70 a night. She and her husband, Jesse, bought the 16-room motel in 1994 and have paid for extensive remodeling.
"I believe strongly because, I'll tell you, not everybody can afford to pay over $100 a night," Gabiga said.
Before suburbia popped up around it, Route 12 was the main path between the Chicago area and Minneapolis-St. Paul, so more motels were necessary. Route 12 remains a popular suburban route to Lake Geneva, Wis.
Route 12 starts its Lake County leg at Lake-Cook Road. It hits Wisconsin at the McHenry County town of Richmond.
Nancy Loomis Schroeder, president of the Ela Township Historical Society, said two small motels once existed in Lake Zurich on Route 12, where it meets Old Rand Road and north at Route 22. …