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End of an Era: A Look Back at the Country Squire

Photo credit: Grayslake Historical Society
Photo credit: Grayslake Historical Society
The wrecking ball last month ended an era in Grayslake history, but some of the artifacts of the famed Country Squire restaurant are on dispay at the Graylake Heritage Center and Museum in downtown Grayslake.

Restaurant menus along with other memorabilia are on display in the candy display case from the old five and dime store on Center Street in Grayslake. The case, which is used for recent acquisitions by the museum, is located in the entrance lobby of the museum at 164 Hawley St.

The Country Squire Restaurant, in the former Sears’ mansion, ended its business after serving the community, and Hollywood stars, for more than 30 years. Owner Gus Govas and his mother Crystal watched the demolition operation. They kept the 100-year-old Sears clock and other memorabilia to be divided among family members. An auction for some items is expected.

The restaurant through the years was a popular venue for banquets, business meetings and luncheons, weddings, anniversaries, Mother's Day celebrations, Easter dinners, other holiday festivities and parties, etc.

Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital purchased the building and nine acres at 19133 E. Belvidere Road, adjacent to the hospital's outpatient facility. A hospital spokeswoman said the property was purchased "as a long-term investment ... for additional health-care services in the future.” No plans for the property have been announced.

According to newspaper and historical accounts, the home was owned by Wesley Sears, son of Richard Sears, who started Sears, Roebuck & Co. The Sears summer home had 17 rooms, eight baths and four fireplaces. The dining room was turned into a lounge and the living room with handcarved beams was turned into the reception area. The library with wood paneling was turned into the library bar.

In 1985, a 500-seat, 11,500-square-foot banquet hall with a separate entrance was built. There was a back courtyard with statues, and the grounds had more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils.

The restaurant building, always a Grayslake landmark, was originally built in 1938 at the corner of Routes 120 and 45 as the residence of Wesley Sears, a member of the retail family. The mansion was considered 10 years ahead of its time when it was completed.

In 1954 the Country Squire restaurant was opened by Martin and Edna Giesel, known at the time for their operation of Chicago's Cafe de Paris on North Dearborn Parkway. They preserved much of the original charm of the home, using the family’s dining room as the restaurant lounge, the living room as the fireside reception area and the original library as the Library Bar.

The Govas family acquired the Country Squire in 1977. Patriarch William Govas died in 2008. The family continued to operate the restaurant. In 1986, the banquet facility was built.

Bernie Tafoya, a WBBM Newsradio reporter, broadcast a nostalgic piece about the Country Squire noting that at the time the house was built it was considered 10 years ahead of its time with its modern conveniences including glass-enclosed bathtubs and brass hardware on the front door. He said a 13-acre woods surrounding the mansion had a variety of native and transplanted trees. The Govases added a ginko tree to the woods.

Many famous people wined and dined at the Country Squire, Tafoya reported. They included Carl Sandburg, Marlon Brando, Esther Williams, Gary Coleman, Mike Ditka, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom and DJ Wolfman Jack.

According to the restaurant's website, Frank Lloyd Wright said: "For a place I didn't design, it's a nice joint you've got here."

Hours at the museum are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during the Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings and during other downtown Grayslake events. At the present time, the museum is also open on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

—Contributed by the Grayslake Historical Society.

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