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Friday, September 16, 2005

What's in a name

The Springfield Renaissance Hotel recently changed it's name to the "President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Convention Center." The reasons for said name change should be quite obvious.

Before I forget, I just want to make note that this is at least the third hotel in Springfield to bear the name of our sixteenth president.

The most prominent was the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. It was a regal brick and sandstone structure, centrally located, at the southwest corner of Fifth and Capital just three blocks from the State Capitol Building. As such, lawmakers from out of town lodged there when the Illinois General Assembly was in session.

But, not all lawmakers were served there. Well into the 1960's, the hotel openly discriminated against black people, including one state legislator, Harold Washington, who would later become the mayor of Chicago. I specifically recall him telling the story of how he was turned away by the desk clerk because "his kind" was not welcome there.

In the early 70's, the hotel closed and fell into disrepair. The State of Illinois filed eminent domain proceedings against every property owner on the block in order to build a grand state office building. The state's plan was foiled, though, when the YWCA (corner of Fifth and Jackson) fought the condemnation proceedings and took the state all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court held that the state could not forcibly take the Y's property.

The lesser buildings on the block ended up being felled by a wrecking ball. And, in 1979, the Abe Lincoln was imploded by a dynamite blast, which I witnessed, by the way. The YWCA still stands and operates to this day. As for all that vacant land in downtown Springfield? No, the state didn't build its building around the Y. Instead, they put up a surface parking lot.

Then there was A. Lincoln Motel on the south edge of town. A low slung brick structure, with a sparkling clean swimming pool and diving board. In its heyday, it was a welcome stop for families traveling along Route 66.

Unfortunately, Route 66 faded into the background of highway travel, and the motel turned into a popular resting place for transients and recently paroled convicts and husbands on the hoof. It did, however, have a tavern with a pool table. By the 1980's, it was quite rowdy and known for its barroom brawls. I know of one fellow who was the recipient of a full body bludgeoning with a cue stick there.

The A. Lincoln has since been bulldozed and the new Cozy Dog Drive In, which previously stood next door, has been erected in its place.

So, best wishes to the owners of the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Convention Center on your recent name change.

All facts in this entry are from my own memory, but should be easily verifiable by looking at old newspaper archives.

Posted by Marie at September 16, 2005 12:36 AM


"Husbands on the hoof." That's a beauty.

Your narrative puts me in mind of the Mark Twain Hotel on the near north side of Chicago. I remember seeing it as a kid, and my dad telling me it was a flophouse.

Posted by: Dan at September 16, 2005 12:47 AM

Yeah. I think the Mark Twain was still in business when I lived there. If it's the one I'm recalling, there was a sign above the door that said, "transients welcome." I'm sure it, too, was a grand place back in its day.

Posted by: Marie at September 16, 2005 1:05 AM