The Des Plaines Oasis overlooking the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, one of the glass-walled icons of the Illinois Tollway system, will be torn down next year to make way for the road's widening, officials announced Thursday.
Opened in 1959 and long a stopping point for fast food and quick naps, the bridgelike pavilion will close in April to allow for the addition of a fourth lane in each direction under the Tollway's $2.2 billion reconstruction of Interstate 90 from O'Hare International Airport to Elgin.
The oasis is also smack-dab where a planned new tollway skirting the western edge of O'Hare will someday intersect with I-90.
The oasis "is an important part of our history, but it's important to do the (rebuilding) job right," Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
Motorists in desperate need of gas, caffeine or a Slurpee need not despair, however. The gas stations and convenience stores operated by 7-Eleven on either side of the tollway will remain open, officials said.
For generations, the Tollway's over-the-road oases have long been popular stops, if for nothing else than a way to quiet the kids during vacation trips. They've also been refuges in snowstorms and farmers markets in summer.
The Des Plaines Oasis parking lot was the setting for a scene in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers."
Customers often opt for seats by the oversized windows, which give them a bird's-eye view of the traffic streaming below.
While the loss of the Des Plaines Oasis is "bittersweet," it will be outweighed by the benefits from the expanded roadway, faster travel times and less congestion, Lafleur said.
Darren Grady stopped by the oasis Thursday for a quick lunch before driving back to Chicago from Sycamore. Grady, 32, an attorney who lives in Wicker Park, said he travels I-90 four or five times a month for work.
"To be honest, I would much prefer a tollway with less traffic than the convenience of an oasis," Grady said. "To me, that's a priority to getting … Taco Bell, which I can get at other locations. I can't get a better highway other places."
For Stephanie Bradshaw's family, the oasis is more than just a pit stop. Doctors diagnosed Bradshaw's daughter with a medical condition last year that has the family driving from their home near Rockford to the Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago every six weeks.
So stopping by the oasis for a quick bite and a restroom break has developed into a tradition.
"That would be awful if they closed it," Bradshaw said.
The Tollway's board approved an agreement with oases lessee SFI Chicago Tollway LLC to pay SFI $9.3 million in termination costs in accord with a formula outlined in the original 25-year lease agreement.
SFI paid the Tollway $813,000 in 2012 to lease and operate all seven oases, not counting the fuel stations and convenience stores operated by 7-Eleven, the Tollway said. Six of the oases are pavilions that span the toll roads.
SFI took over the oases in 2010 after the former operator, Los Angeles-based Wilton Partners, struggled to rent spaces to vendors and defaulted on its lease with the Tollway in 2008. Wilton subsequently lost them in foreclosure.
While the news of the closing caught customers off guard, some employees said they had a sense that something was coming.
"I thought it was a rumor," said a disappointed Shaketa Ellis, 21, who works at Panda Express.
Like other workers, Ellis expressed concern about the future of her job. She said she hopes to transfer to another location within the company before the wrecking ball swings.