Scale Models, Riviera Roadhouse

Gardner, Illinois

Gardner's Gangster's Hangout

The Riviera Roadhouse in Gardner has a fascinating history. Jack Rittenhouse mentions it in his guide book as a cafe at the intersection of the road into Gardner and Route 66. The Riviera Restaurant and Tavern was built in 1928. James Girot, a South Wilmington businessman, moved buildings from Gardner and South Wilmington and put them all together to form the Riviera structure as it stands today. The Riviera is a true roadhouse! Once movie legends Gene Kelly and Tom Mix regularly stopped here. This was a favorite haunt of Al Capone and was known as a gangster hangout too. Slot machines and booze were offered to the discrete customer during prohibition. In fact, there's a freezer in the basement with a heavy iron door that was used to hide booze and gambling machines in case of a raid.

Today the Riviera still serves the traveler a good home cooked meal and a stop at the Riviera is to step back in time to the 1930s and 1940s. Speaking of stepping back, while at the Riviera make sure to step out back and see the old Streetcar Diner. The Streetcar Diner is a preservation project of the Illinois Route 66 Association. The Preservation Committee rescued it from destruction and are in the process of restoring it now.

The streetcar is over one hundred years old and yes it truly was a horse drawn streetcar at one time. In 1932 George Kaldem purchased it with the intention of converting it into a roadside diner and moved the streetcar to Gardner. This was a no-frills operation, simple and to the point. A small sign on the exterior identified it as a diner, and its reputation for good food soon brought in the customers. For a while it was even used as an unofficial bus stop for the Greyhound line. The diner closed in 1939 but its history was not complete yet. Over the years it became a summer cottage, a children’s playhouse and rental property for workers at the Joliet Arsenal in W.W. II. In 1955 Gordon Gunderson who had married the daughter of Jim Girot, original owner of the Riviera Restaurant purchased the streetcar, and the streetcar was moved once more to its present location behind the Riviera.

It was used as a place for family reunions, picnics, lodging for fisherman and eventually a storage shed. Over the years the diner fell into disrepair until John Weiss, the President of the Illinois Route 66 Preservation Committee discovered it. Restoration then began on this historic streetcar and diner from the early days of Route 66. The dinner is not quite complete yet, but knowing the Illinois crew it will be soon! Thanks guys for preserving a part of our past in Gardner.

Quote from: The Road Wanderer

Scale Model Riviera Roadhouse (1:100)

Fire destroys Riviera Restaurant

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

GARDNER — Much history went up in smoke Tuesday when flames leveled the Riviera Restaurant on Old Route 66, a reputed favorite hangout of Chicago mobster Al Capone. Authorities were not saying earlier today if arson was involved. However, investigators were checking the smoking embers this morning, and Gardner Fire Chief Randy Wilkey said the site is currently being treated as a crime scene. Oddly enough, the front wall of the restaurant, still bearing the name, Riviera, remained standing while flames gutted the rest of the building Tuesday night. The wall was still in place earlier today, noted passerby Jim Serena, who was the second on the scene when the Gardner Fire Department was dispatched at 7:04 p.m. Tuesday to the site.

Built in 1928, the Riviera was 50 percent engulfed in flames when Gardner firefighters arrived. The restaurant is four to five miles north of the village on the “Mother Road,” as Old Route 66 is known. “Because of the structure of the building and its layout, the fire spread pretty rapidly”, Wilkey said today. “We set up a defense attack, and saved what we could save”. The Riviera has been closed, and no one was in the restaurant, nor the living quarters at the back of the structure, at the time of the blaze. “It had been closed down, and had gone back to the original owners”, Wilkey said. “There was a leasee who was leasing the building, and he had backed out of his lease. The building was unoccupied. Both the residential and commercial sections of the building were unoccupied”.

The building’s history was known throughout the state, and had spread as far as Europe, Wilkey said, recalling the many Europeans who have regularly stopped at the Gardner Fire Station, local police department and other establishments through the years for directions to the site“. They were fascinated”, he said.
More than 23 area fire departments were at the scene Tuesday. Due to some miscommunication with a couple of police dispatch centers, some fire departments were delayed in their response.“Whether the dispatch centers were overwhelmed, I can’t answer that question”, Wilkey said. “All I know is, we had some area departments that should have been there that were not dispatched to be there”.

Article from:  Morris Daily Herald

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