A hotel whose register listed Prince Charles and Frank Sinatra among guests is back in business thanks to a west suburban couple who saw a bright future for a vacant property that still carried an iconic brand. Jim and Tely Nagle bought The Drake Oak Brook in 2013 and took a hands-on role in its renovation.
Elmhurst native and former Glen Ellyn resident Jim Nagle practiced law in Wheaton and DuPage County for years but also oversaw build-outs of commercial properties with his own crew of craftsmen. He followed suit with the hotel for the majority of the work, including meticulously creating wood columns to match neighboring originals in the conversion of the enclosed piano bar to an open focal point.
A request from the village to preserve the dining room’s historic wallpaper prompted an artist’s five-week labors to retouch the mural-like art. The paper was chosen for the space when Chicago’s Drake Hotel built the sister location in 1961. It’s the same wallpaper Jackie Kennedy selected for a reception room when she redecorated the White House. In the restaurant are two of the hotel’s 180 solid oak doors that were stripped of layers of paint to reveal the rich grain of the original decor.
The Nagles now have their home on the hotel’s fourth floor. And while The Drake Oak Brook is managed by the First Hospitality Group, Tely Nagle said they’re never far from the day-to-day operation.
She did the interior design, including new wall coverings, additional crystal chandeliers and hand-carved furnishings commissioned from one of her favorite artists. She said they also have a co-branding agreement with Martin Lawrence Galleries for added visual touches.
“We’re very happy with our start,” Jim Nagle said, noting the goal has been to build a hotel that is warm and welcoming. “I was confident that with Tely we could do that.”
His memories of the property date back to childhood, when his grandfather brought the family to Easter brunch there each year. Today, the restaurant is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the airy Three Oaks ballroom is the setting for Sunday brunch. The space opens onto the informally named flower room, where the Nagles helped design a glass artwork installation suspended from the ceiling featuring 1,000 hand-blown glass blooms.
That area opens onto newly created outdoor vantage points that show off the property from villa-like verandas set off by polished travertine. Fountains have been incorporated, and tennis courts redone. Coming attractions include a gazebo and waterfall, as well as an outdoor pool intended to be open year-round.
Still operational is the tunnel for golf carts that leads under York Road to Butler National Golf Club, one of the many nearby courses open to guests.
The hotel offers 84 rooms and suites. Jim Nagle said the adjoining building is being transformed into The Residence at The Drake and will include amenities for long-term stays such as kitchens in the suites. He said an added drive off York Road also has been approved.
“[We’ve received] tremendous support from the village and the county,” Jim Nagle said.
In a tribute to Gino Di’Rienzo, the Nagles surprised him by renaming an antique-filled meeting space after him. Di’Rienzo worked for Winston Churchill before starting at The Drake Oak Brook in 1962, where he helped arrange wedding receptions and other events as catering manager until the 2009 closure following several ownerships of the property.
The Nagles said the personal touch has always been important at the hotel.
“I grew up in Elmhurst,” Jim Nagle said, noting that without this venture, he’d never have reconnected as he has with friends from high school or people from his law practice. “You can’t measure that on a balance sheet.”
Calling The Drake Oak Brook’s private ownership a plus is Rock Madden of Glen Ellyn, president of Power-Clean, who worked on the building exterior.
“There’s not a big corporate hierarchy,” Madden said. “It’s family run, and they are here all the time; they care all the time.”
The Nagles have brought a part of history back to life, said Edith Rivera, a former teacher in West Chicago and now part of the hotel team with husband Hernan, Tely’s brother. The Riveras and their children are relocating to Elmhurst from Wood Dale.
“We’re extremely proud of them,” she said of the Nagles. “It’s been a labor of love for all of us.”
WHAT: The Drake Oak Brook
WHERE: 2301 York Road, Oak Brook
INFO: 630-571-0000, www.thedrakeoakbrookhotel.com