Updates on Endangered Locations: Mineola Resort (Fox Lake, IL) & The Wonder Bar (Madison, WI)

One of the great things about caring about history and having an interest in ghost stories is that we get to find and visit some amazing locations that don’t last forever. It’s sad when they’re gone, but at least we’ve had an opportunity to visit these sites and document them to some extent.

Two of my favorite structures, both with long Mafia histories and ghost stories, are very much in danger. Sadly, for the Mineola Resort in Fox Lake, with the writing on the wall, the clock almost done ticking down. Fortunately, there’s going to be one last opportunity to view that location before the wrecking ball begins to take its toll (check out that info below).

Since this is an update article, I’m not going to go into the full history of the Fox Lake’s Mineola Resort or Madison’s Wonder Bar. To hear the history and hauntings of the Mineola, please check out the video below.

Mineola Resort, Fox Lake, IL

You can even see the difference (read: further weathering) of the building between the video shot in 2017 and what the building looked like in July 2022, which is when all of the photos on this page were taken.

While I had been hoping that a larger company would’ve taken over the property to restore it to its prior glory, it appears, this won’t be the case. It’s certainly true that resorting this structure would’ve been a major undertaking, which is terrible considering that it stood since the 1890s with neglect being the only factor into it falling to its current condition. It’s been fully shuttered for 10 years now and even so, it’s standing proud, defiant through the extremes of Midwestern summers, winters and storms.

(C) Chicago Tribune

The latest update on the Mineola is that a sale is in place with a closing date in Mid-August, just a week or two from when I’m writing this article. The next step would be demolition with the future owners hoping to develop the area into a hotel, which will attempt to honor the Mineola’s history. You can see in the image to the left, an artists’ rendering provided to the Chicago Tribune, which mostly looks like a cleaned-up version of the current resort.

My tour group getting an up-close look at the Mineola Resort in Fox Lake

I had an opportunity to lead a tour group to the Mineola Resort in July and I’ll be doing so again next week, which will likely be the final opportunity for us to see this grand structure, (ironically, a structure that’s on the National Register of Historic Places). This is part of the Lake County ghost tour, which is an all-day event covering locations throughout the county and does include lunch. For more information on the tour, check out this link.

Wonder Bar, Madison, WI

To read my full write-up of the history and hauntings of the Wonder Bar, check out my article here.

The Wonder Bar in Madison as it looks as of August 2022. Closed since the pandemic started, the first floor windows have been boarded up for most of 2022, if not earlier.

There’s still hope for a future when it comes to the Wonder Bar Steakhouse, on Madison’s west side. The future of the 1929 (or ’30)-opened establishment, funded by prohibition bootlegging money through Chicago’s gang of Touhy brothers, was dim in August of 2021. The restaurant closed its doors with the pandemic, never to re-open under its then-owners. Development proposals then came in, which would wipe the whole area clear with designs for an 18-story, $40 million structure, featuring 291 apartments and 16,000 square feet of commercial space. In fairness to the developers who made the proposal, they were willing to donate $250,000 towards the cost of relating the Wonder Bar to a new location.

Madison recently dodged another bullet (for the time being anyway) as a prized, haunted old hotel, the Ruby Marie, seemed destined for the wrecking ball. After some public outcry, the developer came up with a new plan to build their development around the existing structure, keeping it in place. Those plans come from the pre-pandemic era and nothing has come of it yet, the Ruby Marie and the nearby properties are still in operation.

It seemed that time was running out for the Wonder Bar as the City Council was set to meet in August of 2021 with construction planned for fall of 2021. However, the development plans were not approved, leaving the future of the Wonder Bar an open question. The owners then contemplated a smaller, 12-story option, while relocating the Wonder Bar within the property. However, the housing boom and supply line holdups we saw in early 2022 lead exploding construction costs. As of the most recent news I could find, the new (not yet approved) plan is for a 5-story building built on the property that would leave the Wonder Bar in its current location.

I’m opining a big here, but there’s no reason the Wonder Bar can’t be a very in-demand location. Rather than a bulldozer, I can see this building being added on to, similar to how another suburban roadhouse with Mafia ties, the Irish Legend in Willow Springs, IL went from an after thought to a booming destination. In the end, there’s always almost always room for profit, development and preservation. The biggest difficulty at the moment for the Wonder Bar is how much time is passing while it’s just sitting. I’m sure there’s already a lot of renovation work that will be needed, but each passing day could be letting wildlife and mold take the location over a little more, presenting an uphill battle for re-opening.

Further Reading about the Status of the Wnder Bar:

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