WGN: At this Chicago landmark, home is where the ‘heart’ is

Ward Miller interviewed by Mike Lowe for “At this Chicago landmark, home is where the ‘heart’ is; Heart O’ Chicago motel a well-preserved throwback to 1950s era architecture.” Photo credit: WGN 9 Chicago

“Chicago’s so-called “motel row” stretches along Lincoln Avenue on the North Side — from the Apache, to the Summit, and the Diplomat. But perhaps none of the 1950s era motels is as recognizable as one a few miles away in Edgewater – the Heart O’ Chicago Motel.

“‘I mean it’s got a heart in the middle of it,’ said Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago. ‘It’s got a sense of humor about it. It’s hugely misleading in a lot of ways which I think attracts a lot of attention. It’s not the heart of Chicago. It’s maybe the heart of the Far North Side or the heart of this community.’

“The motel has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1957. Owner Scott DeGraf said his father’s company, DeGraf Brothers, was hired to be the concrete contractor during construction, but when the developer went bankrupt, the brothers decided to build it anyway, thinking they’d sell it within a year.

“‘They decided not to sell it and we’ve had it ever since,’ DeGraf said. ‘We’re going on 66 years.’

“And in many ways the Heart O’ Chicago feels like a postcard from another era – from the lack of keycards to the old-school computer keyboards.

“‘I wanted to keep the motel as it was originally,’ DeGraf said. ‘I had custom furniture made so it looked like we’ve never changed our furniture. We have yellow bathrooms, yellow tile bathrooms. I wanted to make it look kind of retro, keep it in the style of the motel when it was built, in the heyday of these little motels.’

“Miller said the motel is a lasting reminder of a time when motor travel opened up vacationing to the American public in the 1950s.

“‘There’s only a handful of these kinds of buildings left that are kept to this level of maintenance,’ Miller said. ‘This is really a wonderful little time capsule if you will of the American dream in the 1950s and 1960s where a family could get in their car and really enjoy a modest vacation that wouldn’t break the bank and stay in a clean place.'” (Lowe, WGN 9 Chicago, 2/15/24)

Watch the full story at WGN Chicago



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