KLASEY: M. Fenouille’s elegant hotel | Local news
The European Hotel in Fenouille was not the first hotel in Kankakee, but by the end of the 1800s it was the most elegant and popular in the city. When it opened in mid-November 1886, the Kankakee Gazette reported that the hotel was “elegantly built and an ornament for the whole street”.
Designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Willett and Pashley, the three-story building on East Avenue featured floor-to-ceiling windows and a rough stone facade on the first floor. The second and third floors were clad in pressed bricks and had large windows for light and ventilation. A pointed roof distinguishes it from two-story commercial buildings with a flat roof on either side.
“The office occupies the front of the first floor and is finished in oiled southern pine,” continues the Gazette report on the new hotel. âThe main oak staircase, leading from the office to the second floor, is an attractive architectural piece, adding greatly to the beauty of the room. On the first floor was also a dining room with 100 seats; the second and third floors were devoted to guest rooms.
Although it is commonly referred to as the “European hotel in Fenouille”, the building did not belong to the owner Louis E. Fenouille. The builder and owner of the hotel was James Lillie, a prominent local entrepreneur who had erected the multiple buildings of Illinois Eastern State Hospital (later Kankakee State Hospital; today, Shapiro Developmental Center).
The new hotel was in a good location on what was then the city’s main shopping street, East Avenue. Centered on its intersection with Station Street (where the Illinois Central Railroad station then stood), the east side of the street was lined with stores, offices, and other commercial buildings. By the time Fenouille opened in 1886, there were two other hotels in sight of the station: the Exchange (later Commercial) at the northeast corner of East Avenue and Station, and Knight’s (later Central) at the southwest corner of Washington. Avenue and rue de la Gare.
When James Lillie sold the building to George R. Letourneau in 1891, Louis Fenouille continued to operate the business. âThe property is exceptionally well situated for the patronage of the hotel,â notes the Gazette, âand has always received a liberal share of public favor. and his wife offered to make the house as comfortable and warm as possible, will understand that his success is due to merit.
âThe hotel has been successful since it was opened by Mr. Fenouille five years ago,â continues the daily. “Not only have the traveling public given him a liberal share of the business, but our people in Kankakee have supported him with their generous patronage.”
At the end of 1891, Fenouille announced that business had increased so much that the hotel was expanding. He told the newspaper that the second floors of the buildings on either side of the hotel would be converted into guest rooms. Doors were cut through the walls of the building to allow access from the hotel office. Fifteen rooms would be added.
Shortly after the hotel was expanded, its name was changed to “Windsor”. The reason for the name change has not been recorded, but it is known that Fenouille sold the hotel business in 1893. Shortly after, he purchased the Preston Senesac Livery business, located at the northeast corner of Schuyler Avenue and Station Street.
The stable purchased by Fenouille was a fairly small business, owning only eight horses and housing several others. He quickly reshuffled the business. The Kankakee Daily Republican noted: â… he remodeled and rebuilt the building, making it 75 feet by 150 feet. He auctioned off all the old stock and put in new horses, vehicles and harnesses.
Fenouille’s livery announced that its specialty was “beautiful cars for weddings or funerals”. It has proclaimed itself as “one of the best equipped stables in the state”, with a strength of 30 horses, “made up of twin teams and single riders”.
The inn that Fenouille had sold in 1893 apparently changed hands within a few years – the City Directory of 1896 listed it as the âHasker Hotelâ. Around 1918 it became the “Savoy Hotel” and in 1927 the name was changed to “New Savoy”.
In the Depression years of the 1930s, the building was renamed with the name it would bear until 1964: “Alamo”. By the 1960s, the hotel was no longer stylish, and the street it stood on had deteriorated as the city’s shopping center gradually migrated one block east to the ‘avenue Schuyler.
Disaster struck the tired old hotel in the very cold early morning hours of February 24, 1964, when a fire broke out in a basement stairwell and quickly spread. “Perhaps 15 minutes after firefighters arrived at the scene, flames were already erupting through the roof and third floor windows,” the Kankakee Daily Journal reported.
At dawn, the blaze was declared under control, amid concerns that some of the hotel’s occupants were killed in the blaze. âIt served as a refuge for retired elderly people, mainly men, and people passing through,â the newspaper commented. Two days after the fire was extinguished, authorities were able to determine that all registered guests were present.
The Alamo fire marked the beginning of the end for East Avenue. More parking was needed for downtown businesses on Schuyler Avenue; the demolition of the many vacant and dilapidated buildings along East Avenue provided a ready-made solution. By the turn of the decade, the city’s former main shopping street was an unbroken chain of parking lots stretching from Court Street to Station Street.