Route 66 News

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign comes down — temporarily

The famous and historic neon sign for Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois, recently was taken down.

But don’t panic — it will be gone only a few weeks so it can be fixed and renovated so it looks new again.

WBBM-TV reports that owner Patrick Rhea said he didn’t look forward to his iconic sign being gone, but it needed to be done.

“It’s pretty much worn out,” Rhea said. “They can’t put parts in it anymore, the metal casting needs to be redone.” […]

The sign is being disassembled and trucked to a neon studio in Missouri for restoration. Artists there have reconstructed over a dozen Route 66 signs and David Hutson has worked on each of them. It is expected to take about one month. […]

When asked if Rhea is nervous about the sign coming down, he responded, “it’s been there for 71 years. What happens if it goes poof and falls apart?” […]

“It’s not just a sign that advertises my restaurant, it’s truly a piece of art,” Rhea said.

Costs of the neon-sign restoration will be partly covered by a $17,300 cost-share granted awarded last year by the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.

The refurbishment time will take four to six weeks. So those who travel to the Chicken Basket should see its neon sign again in its full glory by early June.

Here’s the WBBM video:

More about the history of the Chicken Basket, courtesy of the corridor program:

The Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as a lunch counter attached to a service station in then-rural Hinsdale. This mix and match of functions was typical for Route 66 establishments operating on thin profit margins that required them to be creative in attracting customers. Legend has it in the late 1930s, two local farm women offered a deal to original owner Irv Kolarik, who was looking to expand his menu. They would reveal their excellent fried chicken recipe to Kolarik and his customers if he would promise to buy the chickens from them. To sweeten the deal, the women offered to teach him how to fry the chicken. Soon, the service station was history and the Chicken Basket was born. The restaurant we see today was built in 1946 next to the original site of the 1930s station. The one-story brick building was constructed in a no-nonsense, utilitarian commercial style of the immediate postwar period. Overall, the restaurant retains much of its original 1946 appearance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Screen capture from WBBM report of the Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket sign being taken down)



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