Illini Union Hotel remains historic campus icon

Often overlooked but always welcoming, the Illini Union Hotel has been receiving a wide range of guests since the Union’s construction in 1941.

A not-so-hidden gem within the Union, the hotel’s walls and rooms contain intricate detailing in the wood and around the ceilings. With a certain antique yet refined quality, some tend to forget that it holds as much history as the Union itself.

Whether they know it or not, all guests receive a free history lesson nestled within the walls of the hotel’s rooms:

Originally, the Illini Union was a Works Project Administration (WPA) development as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Putting people to work to bring the nation out of the Great Depression, architectural ventures such as this were undertaken around the nation. From the ashes of the Depression came this Colonial Virginia-inspired building, christened by Eleanor Roosevelt herself.

Manager Wally Lotz has presided over the hotel for six years, overseeing one of many remodeling periods throughout its history.

“There was a major renovation project in the mid-60s, which added 76 hotel rooms to the south addition of the building,” he said. Two more face-lifts, one in 2004 and one in 2009, supplemented it, he added.

These rooms have housed countless people throughout the hotel’s history — alumni, University guests, potential students or other visitors to campus are welcomed within the top two floors of the Illini Union.

“Most people have some type of official University business when they’re here,” Lotz said. “Whether they’re a departmental guest, whether they’re a perspective employee, (or) a perspective graduate student brought here by the department. Some people are here for conferences that are sponsored by certain departments.”

With an average of 375 to 400 guests per week, the hotel also houses its fair share of mothers, fathers and relatives, especially on special campus events like Dad’s Weekend or Mom’s Weekend.

“I think it’s awesome because people can just enjoy the proximity of everything on campus if they (stay) there,” said Olexandra Kostenko, graduate student in LAS. “On Green Street they can find everything they need to dine out, and even in the Illini Union there are many options.”

Its central location on campus means that the Illini Union Hotel guests enjoy views of the Main Quad and its surrounding buildings.

“I think it would be a good place to stay because it’s kind of central to everything,” said Elizabeth Rivera-Cruz, senior in LAS.

Another thing that students may not know is that for less than $50, the hotel offers a quiet place for students to study for finals. This could be helpful to anyone with bothersome roommates or those who would just like time to themselves during finals week.

Ya Zhang, graduate student in Engineering, commented that it would also be convenient for students moving from apartment to apartment between semesters. That way if there is a couple of days’ gap in between leases, they will have a place to stay in the meantime.

“People have their weddings here,” Lotz said. “Students, when they get married, they have their wedding in the Illini Union, and they have their guests stay (at the hotel), and it works out.”

Carved within the elaborately decorated wood, the history of the Illini Union Hotel continues to bring in hundreds of visitors to this centrally located, historical building.