Route 66 in the News
Lamplighter Residents Seek Landmark Status
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - An oasis lies a few high-dives east of Interstate 55 on South Sixth Street.
You can’t see it from the highway. From the outside, the Lamplighter looks like what it is: a 17-unit residential development. But step inside what remains of the old Inn of the Lamplighter, and more than the roar of semis disappears.
Back in the day, this was the place to stay in Springfield, right on Route 66 and maybe the first motel on the mother road to have an indoor swimming pool. The 30-room motel also boasted a heated outdoor pool, a lagoon, a wedding chapel, a restaurant and a 55-foot-tall tower with an observatory on top.
All but the indoor pool are gone. Lamplighter home owners are determined to save what remains, and so they are asking Sangamon County to declare the pool a historic landmark.
With mosaics of flowers in blue, white and gold on its bottom, surrounded by fake palm trees that hold up the roof, framed by a red brick deck and next to a wooden water wheel turned by an artificial stream that meanders about 15 feet, the pool is Rome, Polynesia and middle America rolled into one. Owners of homes at the Lamplighter say poolside units -- which replaced the motel’s lobby, business office and gift shop -- are the most coveted, even if swimmers are rare.
“It doesn’t get much use -- there’s only 17 units,” said Randy Schick, president of the Lamplighter Home Owner’s Association and a member of the Sangamon County Historic Preservation Commission that Wednesday recommended the county board grant the pool landmark status.
Historic designation would mean that the pool area could not be demolished or significantly altered without commission approval. There are no government grants or tax credits at stake, Schick said.
“We don’t have any income to offset,” Schick said.
“Kitsch” is not a four-letter word, noted commission chairman Chuck Pell at Wednesday’s meeting. The pool recalls an era when families vacationed in station wagons without air conditioning, kids fussing with each other in back seats, until, at last, places like the Inn of the Lamplighter provided overnight respites filled with swimming and board games laid out on shag carpet, Pell said.
Sporting a fading shuffleboard court and a wooden picket fence around the perimeter, the pool is as much quaint as kitsch. A diving board has been removed and a hot tub added, but the pool otherwise is largely the same as on opening day in 1960, judging by photos on vintage postcards that underscore just how big a deal an indoor pool was when Kennedy was president.
Keeping it this way hasn’t been cheap.
Utility bills to heat and filter the 40,000-gallon pool average $600 a month, Schick said, and pool expenses take up half the assessments Lamplighter residents pay to cover in-common costs. When cracks opened on the bottom of the pool a few years ago, residents got bids, swallowed hard, then fixed them themselves, replacing more than 1,000 one-inch-square tiles that had worked loose.
“That’s the only time I’ve been in the pool, was when it was empty,” said Butch Stone, a resident who can’t swim but helps with repairs and maintenance. “I like it here. It’s nice and peaceful and quiet.”
Stone, who has also helped patch a leaky roof and paint the interior, says he wants the prestige of living next to a landmark.
“We used to have movie stars that stayed here,” Stone said. “This was the high-class motel in Springfield before Holiday Inn and all those came in.”
Tower or no, the conversion of Route 66 to Interstate 55 in 1970 spelled doom for the Inn of the Lamplighter. In the new freeway age, close-to-the-cloverleaf meant everything, and the motel closed 10 years after the interstate opened. After sitting vacant for years, the restaurant, motel and tower, complete with stairs carpeted in orange shag, were demolished in 1998.
The pool, however, is here to stay, with a plaque in the offing.
“We kind of look at it as a large craft project,” Schick said. “We’re happy to take care of it.”
~Bruce Rushton, SJ-R.com
A Little History of the Inn of the Lamplighter
The late James R. Grady was a do-it-yourself guy.
A native of Benton, Grady studied architecture at the University of Illinois and built the Lamp Lighter Motel in 1948, the year he left school. He designed the seven-unit project himself. The first expansion came four years later, when Grady added 10 units and a snack bar. That same year, Grady became the first president of the Springfield Motel Association. He later became president and director of the American Motel Association of Illinois.
The facility eventually was renamed the Inn of the Lamplighter and in 1954, Grady built a home at the nine-acre site for his family. An outdoor pool was added in 1957, and the indoor pool was installed three years later, one year after the motel expanded to 30 units.
Expansion continued into the 1970s, when Grady added an apartment, exercise area, craft room and gift shop just two years before converting some rooms into permanent residences in 1980.
Grady died in 1995. What remained of the motel was demolished three years later.