CHEVY DEALERSHIP: A TRIBUTE TO ROUTE 66, 2007, 396 N. Chicago Street, Joliet, Illinois, by Marion Kryczka with the assistance of community members. Photograph by author.
Joliet, Illinois, a city of nearly 150,000 people about 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, is famous for many things not least of which is its appearance in the opening credits and scene of the classic 1980 comedy film, The Blues Brothers. Starring John Belushi as “Joliet” Jake Blues and and Dan Ackroyd as his brother, Elwood, there is a flyover of Joliet’s old steel mills in operation at night as well as the old limestone walls of Joliet Prison at dawn. The city of Joliet takes pride in this popular culture heritage, though those manufacturing mills are shuttered and the old Joliet Prison, only one mile away from Chevy Dealership: A Tribute to Route 66, closed in 2002.
Joliet set out in the early 1990s to celebrate and present its rich and diverse heritage by way of a city-wide public artwork initiative. Depicted in painted murals placed at strategic points throughout the city, it presented the various historic periods, people, and significant activities that preceded and followed Joliet’s establishment.
After many hundreds of years living on the undulating prairie with its deep rivers, Native American communities were met in 1673 by French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet (1645-1700)— and after which the city could have been later named—accompanied by French Jesuit Père Jacques Marquette (1637-1675). These European explorers paddled up the Des Plaines River on which the present-day Joliet straddles and camped just south of its downtown. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came a proliferation of canals, various industries, railroads, and quarries that saw the economic boom of this northern Illinois city surrounded by a broad geographical area of farms. In 1964, Joliet’s significance in the development of this part of the nation’s interior was officially recognized with the establishment of the Illinois & Michigan National Heritage Corridor designation.
In the early 1990s, Joliet started a public art mural project. Contemporary art murals were created throughout the city often on exterior building walls or under viaducts. Several of these early murals, after 30 years being constantly exposed to the harsh weather conditions in summer and winter, are today in varying need of restorative work. Whether as an individual mural or as part of a series, these public murals have looked to depict in contemporary art the diversity of Joliet life in more than five centuries of its history.
The 2007 acrylic mural called Chevy Dealership: A Tribute to Route 66 is the artists’ imagined depiction of a Chevrolet automobile showroom in Joliet, Illinois in the mid-1950s. Newer than other murals in the city, the mural is in remarkable physical condition as it sits in the direct western sun on an exterior wall along a high-trafficked downtown street corner. The 10-by-15-foot mural was created by a team of artists led by Marion Kryczka, a Chicago-based artist who was a longtime professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The artists who matured under Kryczka’s mentorship are today accomplished artists in their own right.
The mural is part of a series at the site. It is the larger of two murals displayed on west and south walls of a historic one story red-brick building at 396 N. Chicago Street in downtown Joliet, Illinois. The building had been the original showroom of Winston Chevrolet, a busy auto dealer in the mid-1930s and 1940s. In 1955 the dealership was acquired by Bill Jacobs, Sr. A vintage photograph from that time connected to the mural shows a bevy of new and used cars lined up and parked around the perimeter of the building apparently awaiting customers.
The acrylic mural of Bill Jacob’s dealership in the 1950s is imbued with cultural and historical significance. Bill Jacobs Chevrolet, which opened in 1955, stayed in the family until it was sold in 2015. The founder’s son, Bill Jacobs, Jr., bought the dealership from his father in 1978 at 23 years old. In 2010, Bill Jacobs, Jr., following a 7-year battle with cancer, passed away at 55 years old. Starting at this showroom building in 1955, Bill Jacobs Automotive Group had, by 2010, expanded to five Chicagoland dealerships. It employed almost 500 people and generated about $300 million in annual sales. Mrs. Jeanne Jacobs, the wife of Bill Jacobs, Sr., and Bill Jacobs, Jr.’s mother, passed away in October 2020. It was because of Jeanne Jacobs that her husband Bill Jacobs, a university professor, entered the car business. Jeanne Jacobs’ father owned a car dealership in Chicago where Bill Jacobs worked before he bought his own dealership in Joliet in 1955.
Since the 1970s, artist Marion Kryczka has had a career as an artist. Mr. Kryczka’s drawing is rooted in his foundation as a figurative artist and a lively technique which uses realism as a launching point to create familiar, beautiful, and meaningful scenes. For Chevy Dealership: A Tribute to Route 66, Krycka’s painting imagines a realistic American social scene which reflected Bill Jacobs Sr.’s business philosophy. Mr. Jacobs believed that business is about people and the mural’s showroom is filled with people who worked, lived and played in Joliet in the mid-1950’s. For a public mural like this one, community input was an important part of the process. There were group design sessions and meetings with city officials, with the city approving topics and contracting for the projects. For historic pieces, local residents sometimes posed.
The placing of Chevy Dealership: A Tribute to Route 66 in the mid20th century in the middle of the 1950’s helps express several important historical facets about the building, its car dealership, and the road (U.S. Route 66) that runs past it. In this art project are displayed many facets of Joliet’s rich heritage.
The mural is directly meaningful as a display of Joliet, Illinois, especially as it developed into a vibrant city where the Jacobs and many others put down roots. The mural also expresses the profound economic and cultural impact of the car industry in Joliet at that time reflecting national trends. Finally, it evokes the popularity of the legendary U.S. Route 66 which had opened in 1926 and followed a quilt of interconnected state and county roads for motor travel from Chicago, Illinois, through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and all the way to Santa Monica, California in Los Angeles County. Chevy Dealership: A Tribute to Route 66 shows Joliet’s connection and contribution to this important larger national phenomenon.
The mid1950s for the Chevy dealership mural depicts that unique historical moment when old Route 66, just then 30 years old, was already on the threshold of major change. In the mural U.S. Route 66 was still in its hey-day—though, at the very same time, it was headed for a rapid and transformative decline. In 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Eisenhower. It authorized $25 billion for the construction of over 40,000 miles of an Interstate Highway System. The bill was the largest public works project in American history—and quickly displaced U.S. Route 66 as a major throughway.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. Its address is 645 Joliet Road, Willowbrook, Illinois. It first opened in 1926 as a gas station/lunch counter on a brand-new Route 66. In 1939 the original owner, Irv Kolarik, served fried chicken for the first time. That was over 80 years ago.
The one-story brick commercial building was built next to the original building in 1946 by architect Eugene F. Stoyke (1912-1993). It became a full-service restaurant at the time of the post-World War II travel boom. The path of U.S. Route 66 traveled the western two-thirds of the U.S. from Chicago to Los Angeles, California, a distance of more than 2,000 miles.
Dell Rhea’s window bay of nine single-light-glass-and-wood-canted windows is original as was the neon-and-metal sign in this photograph taken in 2016 (an exact replica of the original sign was erected in 2017). With a fireplace anchoring the restaurant’s north wall, a cocktail lounge was added to the south in 1956. In front of the restaurant on U.S. 66 there was Bluebird Bus stop which people could take to St. Louis and send packages across country.
In 1962 Interstate 55, a major expressway connecting Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans basically retired U.S. Route 66 as a major thoroughfare. In 1963 the Chicken Basket was bought by Chicago businessman Delbert Francis “Dell” Rhea(1907-1992) who reinvigorated the eatery for the new era. The popular Chicken Basket was owned and managed by the Rhea family until 2019. That year the Lombardi family bought the restaurant with the promise to continue the tradition by keeping intact the original recipe which has remain unchanged since 1946.
Vintage roadhouse decor and family-oriented service joined to a menu featuring fresh and deliciously succulent cooked-to-order fried chickenmakes the Chicken Basket a mandatory Midwest Roads stop.
“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” is a popular rhythm & blues standard composed in 1946 by American songwriter Bobby Troup (1918-1999). It was a hit that same year for Nat King Cole who, with the King Cole Trio, first recorded the song. Troup got the idea for the song when taking a ten-day cross country trip with his wife in a Buick from Pennsylvania to California on U.S. Routes 40 and 66. The lyrics include some of the popular cities and towns on the route. Troup, who later became a film and television actor, certainly drove by what is today Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket on that historic road trip.
Grundy Co., Illinois, 2016.
These are some of my photographs featuring the people, places, and things I have met along today’s American Midwest roads.
I have a personal affection for the American Midwest. I grew up in Chicago and its suburbs, and went to grade school, high school and university here.
Growing up In the Midwest I had my family, friends, diverse outings, engaging jobs, and, later on, married here. I continue to enthusiastically explore this vast region that’s rightly called “The Heart of America.”
Memories of the Middle West — its sights, sounds, smells, and tastes — and mostly in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan — are the mother’s milk of my life. Through steamy summers, multi-colored autumns, ice-bitten winters, and flowering springs to traverse Midwest roads spell adventure — both then and now.
The American Midwest is filled with human stories and diverse and awesome natural beauty. There is timeless nostalgia, and, when those things don’t entice for the moment, unexpected curiosities.
For those who love it, the Midwestern terrain possesses what Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) spoke about in his last major book, The Sangamon, as “magic in that soil, in the plains, the borders of forest, the oak trees on the hills.” The poet was sure that “if you should drive through (this region)…strange dreams would come to you, and moreover those dreams would tally with mine.”
The region continues to offer the sightseer magical things including impressive remnants of an American Indian mound-building culture and encounters with animals and birds, wild and domestic. Edgar Lee Masters understood that it is the Midwestern people – individualistic, hospitable, industrious, good willed, courageous and independent – who bestow to the central part of the country its greatest distinction. It is this populace that, like the past, builds what is frequently photographed on Midwest roads and in its towns and cities: canals, roads, barns and farms, houses. In the 21st century new things of interest can be seen on a Midwest road trip– such as cellphone towers or wind turbines — while older things, like barns, disappear.
Many famous Americans and international figures have traversed the Midwest roads, some perhaps unknown or unexpected–James Monroe (in 1785), Charles Dickens (1842), John Muir (1849), Henry David Thoreau (1861), Antonín Dvořák (1893), Winston Churchill (1946). Others were born or lived here, such as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, Harry S Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barack and Michelle Obama, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Jesse James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Dinah Washington (“Queen of the Blues”), and many more.
It is Abraham Lincoln whose memory is most famously linked to Midwest Roads. Riding his horse, “Old Bob,” Lincoln loved to travel the Eighth Judicial Circuit as a defense lawyer. It is to the sixteenth U.S. president and the Midwestern spirit he manifested that this photographic essay is dedicated.
SOURCES: E.L. Masters quotes from The Sangamon by Edgar Lee Masters with Introduction by Charles E. Burgess, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1988 (first published 1942), p.6.
Farm garden, DuPage Co. (Downers Grove), Illinois, July 2018.
Farm garden, DuPage Co. (Downers Grove), Illinois, July 2018.
Bureau Co., Illinois, June 2017.
Graveyard crucifix and altar with wind turbine, Bureau Co., Illinois, 2017.
Dixon, Illinois, 2017. The Ronald Reagan Trail is a route in Illinois that follows sites of interest associated with the 40th president of The United States. Reagan grew up in Dixon, Illinois. Route 26 originally ran north-south about 25 miles from Freeport, Illinois to Polo, Illinois. In 1937, IL-26 was extended about 15 miles north from Freeport to the Illinois-Wisconsin state line and about 15 miles south from Polo to Dixon, Illinois. In 1969, IL-26 was extended almost 100 miles from Dixon south to East Peoria, Illinois.
Honor Guard, Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Lee Co. (Dixon), Illinois, June 5, 2017.
Walworth Co., Wisconsin, 2017.
1992 Case IH 7150, DeKalb Co., Illinois, 2016.
DeKalb Co., Illinois, October 2016.
Grundy Co., Illinois, 2016.
Kendall Co., Illinois, 2016.
Grundy Co., Illinois, 2016.
LaSalle Co., Illinois, 2016.
Tazewell Co., Illinois, 2016.
LaSalle Co., Illinois, 2016.
LaSalle Co., Illinois, 2016.
Grundy Co., Illinois, August 2016.
Detail of downtown bi-centennial mural, LaSalle Co. (Ottawa), Illinois, 2016.
DeKalb Co., Illinois, 2016.
Lake Co., (Wauconda), Illinois, August 2016.
Kendall Co. (Oswego), Illinois, April 2016.
Iroquois Co., (Watseka) Illinois, 2017.
LaSalle/Grundy Cos. (Seneca), Illinois, 2016.
Leaf blowers, 2018.
Cook/DuPage Cos., (Schaumburg), Illinois, 2016.
DuPage Co. (Downers Grove), Illinois, 2018.
DuPage Co. (Wheaton), Illinois, 2018.
U.S. Route 20 is the longest road in the country. It stretches east to west from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon– about 3,100 miles. It started on the east coast in the early to mid-1920’s. It reached Illinois in 1938 and is since mostly unchanged. In 1955 the Illinois General Assembly designated the length of U.S. 20 in Illinois the U.S. Grant Memorial Highway. The sign was produced in late 2006.
Walworth Co. (Lake Geneva), Wisconsin, May 2017.
Santuario de Guadalupe, Cook Co. (Des Plaines), Illinois, May 2018.
Santuario de Guadalupe, Des Plaines, Illinois, May 2018.
Morning Mass, Santuario de Guadalupe, Des Plaines, Illinois, May 2018.
Winnebago Co. (Rockford), Illinois, 2017.
The Worker, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Camp Chicago-Lemont, Company 612, established June 4, 1933. Cook/DuPage Cos. (Willow Springs), Illinois.
The CCC was a major part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Federal program provided manual labor jobs related to conservation and the development of natural resources on mostly rural lands owned by government entities. The CCC was specifically designed to give jobs to young men so to relieve their families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression. The CCC was active from April 1933 to July 1942. In those nine years and 3 months the program employed approximately 3 million young men who, with food, clothing and shelter included, earned $30 a month, of which $25 had to be sent home to their families.
Capt. A. Lincoln, Illinois Volunteer Militia, Black Hawk War, 1832, bronze, 1930. Sculpture by Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944). Lee Co. (Dixon), Illinois.
During the 1832 Black Hawk War, 23-year-old Abe Lincoln was a captain in what is today the Illinois National Guard. Lincoln enlisted in the Volunteers on April 21, 1832 near Richland Creek in Sangamon County, about halfway between New Salem and Springfield, Illinois. He was mustered into State service the next day at Beardstown, Illinois, on the Illinois River almost 40 miles to the west and elected captain, a position Lincoln said he was surprised and proud to receive.
Illinois and adjoining states at this time were at the edge of the American frontier. Lincoln was mustered into the U.S. service on May 3, 1832 near Janesville, Wisconsin and mustered out on May 27, 1832 as they camped in Ottawa, Wisconsin, without having fired a shot. On that same day, Lincoln re-enlisted as a private in Captain Iles’ company and when that expired re-enlisted again in Captain Early’s company. Lincoln was finally mustered out of military service on July 10, 1832 at Whitewater, Wisconsin.
For a time, young Lincoln was stationed at Fort Dixon on the Rock River in Dixon, Illinois where this statue, unveiled in late September 1930, stands. The sculptor is French-born Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944). Crunelle’s immigrant family came to Illinois in 1889 and settled in Decatur, about 40 miles east of Springfield, Lincoln’s hometown. As Crunelle worked in the local mines, he started making fired clay sculptures. His work was brought to the attention of Lorado Taft (1860-1936) who brought young Crunelle to Chicago to study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Crunelle also began to do decorative work for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
The bronze sculpture of Lincoln, who later as a lawyer and politician expressed pride in his brief military service, is one of the first attempts to depict the Great Emancipator in his youth.
Old Glory, DuPage Co., Illinois, June 2020.
Uptown, McDonough Co. (Macomb), Illinois, May 2006.
Chicago, Illinois, June 2018.
Buying corn, Iroquois County (Watseka), Illinois, August 2017.
DeKalb Co., Illinois, June 2017.
Fox River, Kane Co. (West Dundee), Illinois, August 2014.
DuPage Co. (Downers Grove), Illinois, November 2017.
DuPage Co. (Wheaton), Illinois, August 2015.
DuPage Co., Illinois, October 2017.
DuPage Co., Illinois, October 2018.
barn house, DuPage Co. (Downers Grove), Illinois, August 2017.
First Baptist Church bus, Kankakee Co. Illinois, August 2017.
White Fence Farm, Will Co. (Romeoville), Illinois, May 2017. White Fence Farm was established in the 1920s by the son of a wealthy coal baron. Stuyvesant ‘Jack’ Peabody opened the restaurant to feed his guests who visited his nearly 500-acre horse farm on the other side of a newly opened U.S. Route 66. In the mid-1930’s Peabody started to promote the domestic wine industry by featuring California wines at the restaurant. Since 1954, the Hastert family has owned and operated White Fence Farm. Advertising itself as the “World’s Greatest Chicken,” the restaurant building has been expanded many times under the Hasterts. Within a country farm manor ambience, it boasts several dining rooms that can seat over 1,000 diners. White Fence Farm continues to offer today some of freshest and best-tasting fried chicken along old U.S. Route 66. The restaurant is a popular destination, especially on weekends, and during the warm weather months, when people in the broader community as well as tourists arrive in droves.
farmer’s market (cheese seller), DuPage Co., Illinois, September 2017.
Anderson Japanese Gardens, Winnebago Co. (Rockford), Illinois. The Anderson Japanese Gardens is a popular 12-acre Japanese garden in Rockford. Construction began in 1978, on the lands surrounding Rockford businessman John Anderson’s home. Anderson was inspired by gardens he visited in japan as well as other Japanese gardens in the U.S. Under the guidance of renowned master craftsman and landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu, the Andersons’ land along Rockford’s Spring Creek was transformed into an outdoor space of water, wood, stone, and flora representing 1,000 years of Japanese horticultural tradition.
Goodland (Newton Co.), Indiana, August 1, 2017.
Plainfield (Will Co.), Illinois. August 11, 2013. Jason and Lucy Flanders House, 1841.
Plainfield was settled at the end of the 1820’s when James Walker constructed a sawmill on the DuPage River. The mill attracted settlers to the region and created Will County’s first permanent community. Located about halfway on the Chicago-Ottawa stagecoach line, Plainfield developed commercially, including a booming lumber trade. Jason and Lucy Flanders married in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1833 (they were both 23 years old). Jason Flanders, born in Vermont, had worked in Boston, Massachusetts since 1830. Lucy Ann Clark Flanders was born in New Hampshire. The Flanders arrived into Will County in 1833 and after seven years of farming, moved to Plainfield in 1840. The Flanders had six children.
Built in 1841, Flanders House exhibits characteristics of both the Federal and Greek revival styles. This includes symmetrically arranged windows and a central entrance overlaid by a porch of the 1920’s. Also known as Mapleview Farm and Bragaw-Klomhaus House, The Flanders’ Place has had only a handful of owners in its 180-year history. There is no record of the house ever being used for any non-residential purpose though it may have served in a commercial capacity, perhaps serving travelers on the Dr. Temple Stage Line Chicago-Ottawa route.
The two-story, side gabled rectangular building is approximately 30 x 40 feet in dimension and with later additions. Jason Flanders built the house with hewn logs and sided it with walnut, its original siding hidden by later exterior finishes. The house was finished on the inside also with walnut. Walnut was abundant in the Plainfield area which may explain partly why the Flanders did not hesitate to whitewash the house exterior.
Jason Flanders was the town constable (Plainfield’s first) and at his death had amassed many hundreds of acres of land. The Flanders and their descendants retained control of the property until 1974. While it is recorded that Jason Flanders was a Methodist, his late-20th-century descendant sold the house to a Lutheran church for use as a parsonage. It was sold again in the early 1990s and restored to emulate its original appearance. Flanders House remains one the oldest extant houses in Plainfield, Illinois, today.