Since Brookfield’s earliest days as Grossdale, there have existed places in the village where weary travelers might stop to spend the night or even longer.
The first hotel in the village was the Grossdale Hotel Pavilion, which was located at the corner of Brookfield and Prairie avenues, where Domenica’s Hair Saloon is now located. This building also served as the village hall and was the business center of Grossdale. However, this hotel did not exist for very long. It may have operated as such only during the years 1893-95. At best, the hotel may have had only a handful of rooms to rent.
This problem of room shortage was addressed in 1895, when Patrick and Mary McDermott came out to Grossdale from Chicago. They promptly built a wooden frame hotel near the corner of Prairie Avenue and Burlington Boulevard. They were no strangers to the business of running a hotel, as they had previously owned one in the city at Wells Street and the Chicago River.
The wooden McDermott Hotel was not a very long-lived one. According to Mary Feely Harazin’s recollection in the July 31, 1968 Brookfield Enterprise newspaper, her mother, Bridget “Ma” (McDermott) Feely had often told the story that “a Gypsy mother and her daughter came to the hotel for a handout. Young Bridget was present, but her mother [Mary McDermott] was busy and kept the Gypsies waiting.
“The Gypsy mother became irritated and told Mrs. McDermott, ‘You came into this hotel in a hurry, and you’re going to go out in a hurry!”
Two weeks later, the cursed hotel burned down.
The McDermotts began the task of rebuilding their hotel, this time out of brick and limestone, at the same site, 8907 Burlington Blvd. in 1897. Meanwhile, they set up a temporary hotel at 3742 Grand Blvd. in the building that had previously housed the Kniest & Stadler Grocery and Meat Market on the ground floor.
The hoteliers washed their linens and clothes and hung them out to dry on clothes lines that covered the triangle corner of Grand Boulevard and Fairview Avenue. This property was vacant until 1908, when Emil E. Pick’s Brookfield Pharmacy opened here. In recent years, it was the home of Fisher’s Pharmacy, and today it is the site of the Salt Creek Wine Bar.
In 1897, a cement-poured cornice was set upon the front peak of the McDermott’s new hotel building on Burlington, and once again they hung out wet washing at the old site. The hotel stayed in business for a couple of decades, and in the late 1920s was still the family home of the Feelys. That was the end of all hotel business in Brookfield to the present day.
When the Great Depression hit, residents were glad to rent out spare rooms to bring in any kind of cash money, and when the Chicago World’s Fair opened in 1933, people in the Chicagoland area were encouraged to rent rooms to visitors. During and after World War II, servicemen and women returning from duty stayed with friends and families.
It wasn’t until the early 1950s, when baby boomers were getting a few years behind them and able to travel that “motor hotels” or “motels” came to be built in Brookfield. Naturally, they were erected along the busiest of all streets in the village, Ogden Avenue, U.S. Highway Route 34.
The first motel in Brookfield, under the name of Lipka’s Friendly Motel, was constructed in late 1950, and the owner was Aldrich Lipka. Lipka also owned the gas station next door, named Lipka’s Friendly Service Station.
In an Enterprise article on Aug. 10, 1950, Lipka, a resident of Brookfield since 1915, stated his reason for opening the village’s first motel, which cost approximately $30,000.
“Many people that come to visit the zoo would like to stay here in town all night, and, at present, the closest accommodations are in LaGrange, and they are very limited,” he was quoted as saying.
In 1955, Lipka’s Friendly Motel at 8835 Ogden Ave. was renamed the Pioneer Motel, a name it has kept to the present day. Back in 1953 it advertised in the Yellow Pages that it offered the traveler “showers, radiant heating and Beauty Rest mattresses. Just 12 miles to the Loop.”
Since it was next to the service station, motel guests could have their cars checked over, repaired or gassed up. After it became the Pioneer, rooms were advertised as being air-conditioned, and with a TV, too. Curiously, this and ads in following years never mentioned Lipka’s zoo connection.
Today, the Pioneer, under the new ownership of Kashmira Shah, offers Cable TV as well. Shah, who became the owner as of June 28, bought the motel from S.B. Patel. According to Shah, Patel owned it for 15 to 20 years previously. Shah describes the motel as having “9 rooms, one two-story owner’s house, and one dry cleaners.”
The latter describes the Prehop Dry Cleaners at 8843 Ogden Ave., right next door, on the former site of the Friendly Service Station.
The second motel in Brookfield was Peterson’s Royal Motel, at 8809 Ogden Ave., built in 1953. The Coronet Construction Company of 8836 Brookfield Ave. handled the contracting work and may have even owned the land. When it opened, its ad echoed Lipka’s/Pioneer’s: “Rooms for Royalty. 30 Minutes to Loop. Heated-Showers-Television.” Today this is the Brookfield Motel.
Today, Superpages.com’s business profile says it has “Clean and comfortable remodeled rooms, low weekly rates, free cable, HBO, restaurant nearby. Member of Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.”
Single daily rate for lodging is $40, with a weekly rate of $205. If you’d like to look the place over, don’t miss seeing the amazing two-and-a-half-foot high stack of old telephone books next to the office check-in window. They date back to 1997, nine long years ago.
Next door is Hey! Viv’s, formerly Hey! Buds-“Home of the Garden Dog.”
But Hey!’s wasn’t always a little fast food shack. Motel residents could amble on over to play a game or two of miniature golf, which is why, today, there is such a wide space around Hey! Viv’s, extending back to the alley. I played here on a few Sunday afternoons until around 1970, when the miniature links suddenly disappeared.
Third on the list is the two-story-high Virginian Motel, at 8836 Ogden Ave.. I could find very little on this motel, other than the fact that it seems to have been in business beginning in 1955. The 1976 telephone book has no mention of it, so that pretty much restricts its period of operation.
In its first year, it barely made a mention in the Yellow Pages. But in 1956, it advertised that it was “25 minutes from Chicago. One of Chicago’s newest motels. 12 ultra-modern units. Air-conditioned. Radiant heat. Television. Showers.” Then, at last, a local motel gave a local plug: “5 minutes from Brookfield Zoo.”
The Virginian must have been an interesting place back then. An old western name with ultra-modern units? Rumor, right or wrong, is that it closed because of too frequent trouble with the police. Today, its past is long behind it. Pierce’s Carpentry, Inc. was operating here as of the year 2000, and today it houses two floors of various business offices.
Fourth and last is the two-story Colony Motel. The large ad in the Aug. 29, 1957 Citizen newspaper declared in no uncertain terms that: “Persons traveling by car, desiring the ultimate in up-to-date accommodations, enhanced by a colonial atmosphere, will find just that in the new Colony Motel to be officially opened at 9232 Ogden Avenue, in Brookfield, September 1.
“Motorists stopping at the motel will find the clean simple lines of the exterior or the building, which is enhanced by quaint lattice work, and the attractively-decorated and wisely planned rooms a welcome retreat from their road travels.
“The motel’s 20 units, including a bridal suite, all feature radiant heating, air conditioning, carpeting. Philippine mahogany-paneled walls and adjoining ceramic tile showers, where built-in shelves afford adequate storage space. Each unit is also equipped with two full-size beds, a dresser-desk combination, two lounge chairs, a 21-inch television set, and a telephone.”
Seems pretty fancy for 1957. The modern rooms had individual room temperature controls. In addition, space for 35 cars was provided out front. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Fikejs, with their 18-year-old son, Richard, lived onsite, in quarters located in the front of the building.
Over the years, very few changes have been made to the motel’s streetside appearance. Now there are 36 rooms, due to remodelings and a renovation done in 2005. In their rooms, visitors get free use of the wireless Internet.
But the neon Colony Motel sign looks just like it did back in 1957 and ever since. The absence of the “Best Western” sign hanging out front signifies that motel chain no longer claims the Colony as one of its own. The Carte Blanche card sign is gone, too, and so is that card company, for that matter.
It’s truly amazing to realize that what we have here is an authentic, unchanged example of a 1950s motel exterior, a gem of a building right here in Brookfield. It’s a wonder that it survived. In 2007 the Colony will celebrate its 50th year of existence.
So what does the future hold in store for new motels, hotels or inns in Brookfield? In March, 2005, the idea was floated that an inn might be built on public property, sold for that purpose, and that it would serve zoo visitors. The proposal never came to fruition, but you never know. Someday such an “Inn At the Zoo” might become a reality, writing a new chapter in Brookfield’s long history of temporary lodgings.