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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Return to Splendor: Couple Revitalizes Drake Hotel Oak Brook

OAK BROOK, IL—After falling into disrepair and then closure, a historic Chicagoland hotel that once played host to well-knowns such as Rock Hudson, Prince Charles and the king of Italy, is now reborn at the hands of husband-and-wife duo Jim and Tely Nagle.

Memories of the hotel’s past run deep for Jim Nagle, a trial lawyer, who grew up in nearby Elmhurst. His grandfather would take the entire family to the Drake for Easter Sunday. “It was a tradition that we continued for several years. This was always the finest property in all of Chicago’s suburbs. My cousins were married here, I attended Bar Association functions, high school reunions, memorial lunches—all at the Drake Oak Brook,” he shared.

The impetus for the project, Nagle explains, was his previous experience investing in more than one million sq. ft. of commercial property with business partners. Hardships arose when 70 percent of his properties went vacant during the recession and he learned the management and real estate firm he entrusted wasn’t doing the job. Determined to make things work, he took on the managing, leasing, building and anything else that needed to be done.

The Nagles looked at their past struggles when the Drake opportunity arose and decided to forge ahead with the project. “My wife and I did a lot of soul searching and we both came to the conclusion that this terrible recession had actually been a blessing. It forced me to stop practicing law and learn how to build,” he said. “The Drake Oak Brook was the vehicle that allowed me to move on.”

In December 2013, construction began in earnest and Nagle kept his team small with only nine workers and even fewer subcontractors. “There were basically 10 men who built this hotel. Construction is currently under way on the annex building.” To restore the hotel back to its early splendor, the Nagles had to start from scratch. “This project was a gut rehab. I replaced all of the electric, plumbing, heating and cooling in addition to the aesthetics such as woodwork, marble, etc.,” he said.

The couple relied on their own creative ideas and expertise instead of looking to professionals for a vision. “Although this was my first hotel, I had completed a substantial amount of renovations before and never had much luck with designers or architects. I always used my own designs and the Drake Oak Brook was no different. I’d spend days and weeks at the property just walking and thinking until I eventually came up with a plan.”

He had significant help from his wife, who is passionate about interior design. “A lot of people know we did this together and they all want to know … We had a very simple formula for success: I did the construction and she did the interior design. Of course, we both had input in each other’s field but in the end, the big decisions were made in this fashion,” he said. “When a room would finally be completed, you could see the space really come to life. I credit this exclusively to Tely.”

The newly revitalized hotel features 84 renovated bedrooms with club-like amenities, while large windows enable natural light to enter all indoor spaces. In addition, the property offers a 2,000 sq. ft. outdoor patio and 11,300 sq. ft. of flexible meeting or event spaces. A refreshed onsite restaurant features woodwork stripped back to its original stain, revived vintage dining chairs, and a renewed Breakfast Room mural depicting early American history.

There appears to be something new at every turn and one highlight is a handmade Chihuly-inspired piece in the glass atrium. “My wife and I have always loved Dale Chihuly’s work, particularly the glass flowers at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. So we decided to create our own art. We traveled to Mexico three times to find the right glass blower. I designed and welded the frames myself,” he said.

According to the Nagles, the hotel’s restoration has been a true labor of love. “We’ve been honored with the chance to restore this property back to the way it was. It has meant so much to so many over the years, and now they’ll get to relive old memories.” And, now guests of the Drake Oak Brook will begin to make new memories.


—Corris Little