Joliet museum eyes buying historic Route 66 landmark The Launching Pad

Wilmington site would take museum beyond Joliet city limits

The Joliet Area Historical Museum is considering acquisition of The Launching Pad, an iconic stop for Route 66 tourists.

The museum has a $1 million state grant to support the acquisition of the Wilmington restaurant, once a local attraction along with being a tourist destination but now closed.

The Launching Pad with its renowned giant astronaut statue is about 15 miles down the road from Joliet, an apparent factor as museum leaders consider whether to buy it.

“If it weren’t on Route 66, I seriously doubt if it would be of interest,” said museum board Chairman Quinn Adamowski.

The museum has a Route 66 exhibit and bills itself as the first stop for tourists who travel the old Route 66 route from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The Joliet Area Historical Museum also has been going outside the museum walls to open up historical sites, starting with its joint venture with the city to make the former Joliet Correctional Center open to visitors.

The museum in October opened up a former neighborhood grocery, also located along the historic Route 66, as an attraction and is in the process of opening a railroad museum at a former switching station in downtown Joliet. Both of those projects are located inside the city of Joliet, which is the primary funder for museum operations.

The Launching Pad would take the museum far beyond the city limits.

Adamowski, however, noted that the museum’s interests are not necessarily confined to the city limits.

“We are the Joliet Area Historical Museum,” he said, making note of the word “area.” “The Launching Pad is on Route 66.”

Adamowski said the board still has much to consider before moving ahead with an acquisition of The Launching Pad, including what the museum would do with the building once it owned it.

“It’s not just about acquiring the property,” Adamowski said. “It’s also about programming the property.”

The museum likely would look to partner with other organizations to actually open up The Launching Pad to Route 66 visitors.

Joliet Area Historical Museum operations are highly dependent on the city of Joliet, which provides annual funding to support them, and one-time grants from the state and federal government.

The Joliet City Council on Tuesday will vote on $450,000 in funding to support museum operations.

A no vote likely would create a funding crisis for the museum. But the city is a partner with the museum in the Joliet prison project, and a no vote is unlikely. The city is the lease holder on the prison, which is owned by the state.

Participants in the Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival check out a Route 66 sculpture outside the Joliet Area Historical Museum on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

Museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte on Thursday at an event concerning the Old Joliet Prison emphasized that buildings at the site are being renovated thanks to $10 million in state and federal grants that were pursued at length by the museum.

“This marks the culmination of a couple of years of advocacy – actually more than a couple of years,” Peerbolte said at the event.

Peerbolte did not return a call Friday seeking comment concerning The Launching Pad.

The railroad museum at the old switching station at the Union Depot Tower is highly dependent on state funding.

City Planner Jayne Bernhard said the opening of the museum, which had been scheduled for this fall, has been delayed until the spring after the city, which owns the property, received another grant for the project that will be used to enhance the visitor experience.

“We did get more money, so we decided to delay opening until April so we could put in another round of content for the exhibits,” Berhnard said.