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The Elms Restaurant, El Paso, Illinois

On US 24 through El Paso, Illinois, it’s impossible to miss this grand dame of the Italianate style, sitting in between the highway and the railroad tracks.

While obviously originally a single family house, and in my opinion, the most lavish in the entire town, it was later converted into a motel and dining room.  Below you can see a postcard that featured the motel.

Efforts to save the building, which only closed in the last decade, are commencing, as you can read in the this newspaper article.  I hope they’re successful.

I love the cupolas that are the feature of many Italianate houses; there really are houses in Italy that look like this, though they’re usually stone.  The cupola was a vent that drew hot air out of the top of the building.

Much of the original woodwork remains, making this an attractive rehab opportunity.

Here is an old photograph of the house; apparently it was owned by one James H. Wathen, and originally featured an ornate front porch, which is now gone.

Update: On March 16, 2013, I spoke to a couple who lived on a farm near here for decades, and frequently ate at the restaurant. They said it was famous for its fried chicken.

24 Comments

  1. I would be very interested in collaborating to bring this property back to a useful life. Feel free to pass on my email to any party currently involved with the Elm.
    Regards,

    David

    • David,
      That would be really cool if you could fix up this building. I unfortunately am not from around El Paso, so I don’t know anyone in town. If you click on the newspaper article about the closing, it lists the owners of the property.

    • Hello, im currently working to restore the building. Ould you be interested in still collaberating?

      • I am a photography student at Eureka College. I am interested in photographing this building. Any help contacting the owners would be appreciated.

      • Colton, are you still restoring The Elms? are you the current owner? I am interested in restoring it to the splendor it deserves.

  2. This was an important place in my family’s life over generations. Both my mother and father and their families lived in El Paso for many years. I really wish someone would restore this treasure.

  3. Cupola’s aren’t only found on stone houses — they’re on wood homes as often as stone. And they weren’t only to draw hot air up through the building, they were also used by “look-outs” to help protect the house and surrounding property.

  4. i am interested in fixing up this building and open a buisness. if you are interested in selling property. if no reply answer please! if yessssss! please call me.!!! thank you.

  5. I live in El Paso Illinois. What information are you looking for and I can try to help.

  6. 41 years ago this week a friend and I were heading back to DeKalb from St Louis on Route 55 when the rain and sleet turned to snow and ice. (We were on a tour of university libraries, He was writing a paper on library automation (how primitive that was. We decided to take Route 51 north and got to El Paso. We stopped at the Elms for lunch. (I have always thought of it as “The Friendly Elms.” The dining room was packed. But we shared a table with some others. Everyone, no matter what direction they were coming from said, “Don’t try to drive that way…”

    But we had a brand new Ford and were intrepid. After lunch we headed north again. After only half a mile or so we realized everyone had been right. We turned around and went back. We were very lucky. We got the last room in the motel. The management had a good stock of food but rationed it. We had hearty meals for 4 days. There were so many people that some stayed in the main building, including a young woman named Jan, from Bloomington, Illinois. People sort of fixed us up. ( However, the crowd chaperoned us very closely.)
    .
    Some of the guys walked into town and brought back some beer. We called the theater to see what was playing but it had closed. When someone got obstreperous and acted childish the manager brought out bibs.

    Everyone got along very well except for one woman from Purdue, a music major who seemed to think she was better than the rest of us. But eventually she shacked up with a truck driver who was also stranded.

    The next day the sun was blinding bright but the roads in all directions were blocked. Jan and I climbed up into the cupola, so dilapidated now. You could see forever, it seemed, over the white farm fields of central Illinois.

    After four oddly enjoyable days (even though news of the fire on the Apollo space ship did get through to us – it seemed very remote) we went our own ways. But a year later several of us returned for a reunion.

    Some fifteen years later my wife and daughter and I were driving through that part of the state. I had told this story many times. We turned on to Rt. 24 and looked for the Elms. There it was, dilapidated but not as bad as the photos on this page. I could smell the aroma of cooking food.
    The neon sign seemed to flicker. There were broken windows. We peeked inside and there were overturned chairs and cobwebs. But no sign of life. We started to walk around the place. I couldn’t imagine where the aroma was coming from. I began to hear the theme from Twilight Zone in my head.

    But here were lots of cars in the parking lot. I noticed someone coming out of a door in the back. They had added a modern addition in back. Sort of a big white box, with a buffet restaurant inside – no windows. The building had become merely a landmark pointing to the restaurant. They even had a kids special. Their meal prices were based on their age.

    I told the young manager the story. He said, yes, his grandfather (I think he said grandfather) had told him about that storm. And he let us into the closed portion of the building where we walked among the dust and glass and climbed up what was left of the stairs to look out the cupola. He said the family had talked about
    fixing up the place some day, but, sadly, it seems they never did.

  7. My wife and I had dinner at the Elms back in the mid-80’s. It was a beautiful place with table cloths and crystal glassware. As nice as you would find in large cities. The menu was incredible. They had everything you could imagine, along with Walleye both battered and broiled. Certainly one of the nicest meals ever. It’s sad to see it in this shape today. It would be nice to see it restored and in operation again. Only it’s location being so remote could’ve ended such a fine establishment.

    • I grew up there and my mother worked there. Yet all the interest no one has done anything to it

  8. Went by the Elms this week and windows are now broke and things are beginning to be destroyed. It is at a turning point where it must be repaired or it will be too far gone to restore.

  9. Rick Morgan, owner of the building as of 2009, had to close his family’s restaurant after 60 years of operation because the building was too expensive to maintain and operate.

  10. Went by last week. On the old home: The windows are broken out on all levels, water standing on the first floor living room wood floor, much wood rot on outside and roof damage. The one story attached restaurant isn’t in as bad of shape. Whoever the owner is, it is obvious they cannot or will not maintain. It has slipped passed salvageable. Took pictures if anyone wants to see.

  11. I would like to speak with the current owner of this property. Could someone please pass my email on to them?
    Thank you,

  12. I found this building today… So sad to see the broken windows… I searched on line to find info about this building and found this post and comments. It is amazing the amount of people with interest in this building over the years. Soon this building will no longer be able to be saved.

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