603-605 N. Milwaukee Avenue - Lovinger Building
The origin of the simple one story, two-business front building at 603-605 North Milwaukee Avenue is a bit of a mystery. It was possibly built by banker John Seely Gridley or the First National Bank in the mid-1920s. The initial owner or intended use of the building is unknown. The first mention of a tenant, the Virginia Cafe, appeared in a 1926 Libertyville Independent advertisement. Since then a variety of tenants have occupied the commercial spaces, including butcher and meat locker shops, a tailor shop, service businesses and restaurants. A two-story addition with living quarters was added after the original construction. For many years the building underwent only minor alterations. In 1998 owner Jeff Lovinger renovated the entire building and completed an expanded addition with a new rear storefront. The north wall was replaced and the storefront re-bricked. A new concrete plaque was added in 2012 naming the building, Lovinger Building. Although there have been changes and upgrades since the 1990s, the storefront building retains its historic configurations and some original elements. The current business occupants are two restaurants, Oscar Lee’s BBQ (603) and Milwalky Taco (605).
Backstory and Context
A mid-1930s assessment record for this building is titled "John S. Gridley.” It is unclear if J. S. constructed the 603-605 property or if he may have owned it as a personal investment or was named as a representative of the First National Bank where he and his brother, George Carroll Gridley, were prominent officials. The Gridley name was closely associated with the First National Bank building across the street at 542 North Milwaukee Avenue where the brothers worked and had their offices, but besides the assessment record, no further links were found to the 603-605 building.
The initial tenant, Virginia Cafe, was advertised in a Libertyville Independent business section dated October 21, 1926. Proprietor Earnest A. Koehm boasted, “We serve the best food in town. Our motto: Quality, Quantity, Quickness.” Virginia Cafe changed proprietors a few times, but remained in business under the same name until the 1930s. In the 1950s butchering and meat locker services occupied the building. Meat lockers processed and butchered meats, sold products in their retail space and froze bulk orders for customers in their refrigerated lockers. Both Mundelein Locker Service and Tommy Meder’s Wisconsin Packing Company operated in the building. They also sold and serviced Philco appliances. Later Town Meat Market, also known as Peterson Purveyors, occupied the building at 603 for many years. They sold wholesale and retail meats, poultry and fish from the 1970s to the 1990s. During that same time period, Pierce & Associates bookkeepers resided at 605, later replaced by Reliance of Hong Kong tailors. TREW Benefits Consulting Group at 605 was an occupant in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Two businesses with entrepreneurial spirit more recently appeared in the building. Lisa Thurman and Sue Katz started a Libertyville-based cosmetics business, Amazing Cosmetics, and opened their first studio at 605 in 2008. They formulated a concealer and other products in a line that became a staple for makeup artists and some Hollywood celebrities. Their studio is now located at 133 East Cook Avenue. In 2012, Robin Segal opened a bakery and restaurant for dogs called the Original K-9 Cafe at 603, featuring muffins, cookies, biscuits and savory menu dishes. During that same time Ariazi Salon and Spa was next door at 605.
Since then there has been a new trend in the building’s use. Lee and Kristina Kuebler are among the restauranteurs responsible for creating the current vibrant restaurant scene in downtown Libertyville. The husband and wife team opened two restaurants in the building. Milwalky Trace (603), named after the historical name for Milwaukee Avenue, arrived in 2014 and Milwalky Taco (605) appeared in 2016. Milwalky Taco is still in the same location, but Milwalky Trace closed in 2018 and in its place the Kueblers debuted a Texas barbecue restaurant, Oscar Lee’s BBQ (603). In 2020 Miwalky Trace reopened down the block at 545 North Milwaukee Avenue and My CharCUTErie replaced Oscar Lee's. With a return to dining service, the Lovinger building travels back almost one hundred years to its original restaurant roots in the Virginia Cafe.
The building is still owned by the Lovinger family. Jeff Lovinger is an original member of MainStreet, served as board chairman and owned Lovinger Real Estate. He is semi-retired, but his family owns the company and manages properties in town, 603-605, as well as 536-542 North Milwaukee Avenue.
603-605 North Milwaukee Avenue (Town Meat Market, Pierce & Associates), Illinois Digital Archives, http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/cookmemo11/id/6661/rec/1, circa 1974-1976
“Couple Open Libertyville’s New Milwalky Trace,” Libertyville Review, April 23, 2014
Historic Libertyville, 603-605MilwaukeeAveN, http://www.historiclibertyville.com/index.php?project=yes&showonlyp=yes&c=3&p=794, Libertyville Historic Preservation Commission
“Hollywood’s Concealed Weapon” by Kristine Blenkhorn Rodriguez. Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2008, Style Section, p. 2
Libertyville Township Assessment Records, John S. Gridley - Front, http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/cookmemo11/id/8071/rec/1,
Libertyville Township Assessment Records, John S. Gridley - Back, http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/cookmemo11/id/8072
“Libertyville’s Restaurant Scene Continues to grow” by Mick Zawislak, Daily Herald, Section News, May 2, 2018
“Local Cafe Under New Management,” Independent Register, November 20, 1929, p. 1
“Original K-9 Cafe is a Howling Success” by Rob Dicker. Libertyville Review, June 14. 2012, p. 12. Sun Times Media.
“Oscar Lee’s Barbecue Smoked Low, Slow” by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek. Lake County News- Sun, Section Weekend, p.5
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois. Sanborn Map Company, Oct 1924. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 USA, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4104lm.g019731924
“Seventh Annual Lake County Farmers’ Picnic,” Lake County Farm Bureau, Wednesday, July 13, 1927. (Virginia Cafe)
“The Community Handclasp,” Libertyville Independent, Special Business Section, October 21, 1926. (Virginia Cafe)
“The Virginia Cafe Sold on Monday,” Libertyville Independent, September 12, 1929, p. 4
Tommy Meder’s Wisconsin Packing Company, Inc. Illinois Digital Archives, http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/cookmemo11/id/1259/rec/1, 1955.
“Two New Restaurants Coming to Libertyville” by Mick Zawislak. Daily Herald, Business Section, May 17, 2008
Village of Libertyville. HistoricLibertyville.com
“The Community Handclasp,” Libertyville Independent, Special Business Section, October 21, 1926.
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. Cizek Collection.
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. Libertyville Township Assessor collection.