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 Highway Overpass Oases

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  • Total Posts: 382
  • Joined: 8/25/2003
  • Location: Chicago, IL
Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 6:24 PM (permalink)
Does anybody else have fond memories of eating at an "oasis" built on a highway overpass? We'd visit the relatives in Wisconsin when I was a kid, and it was always a big treat to stop at the Belvidere, IL "oasis" on the way home. In the '60s, it was a "Fred Harvey" restaurant. (Anybody remember "Fred Harvey" restaurants?) It was a full-service "sit-down" place. I remember the cool vending machines by the entrance that sold lipsticks, bird whistles, etc....all kinds of intriguing stuff! Later on, I remember that the overpass Fred Harvey's had been replaced by a Howard Johnson's. Nowadays, it's basically no different from a mall "food court"...same old fast-food chains.

Seems to me I read a while ago that they were going to tear down the remaining "oases", although one of them (maybe the Belvidere "oasis") was going to be preserved because of its period architecture (mid to late 1950's). I need some enlightenment on that, though.

Are such "oases" only a part of my Illinois upbringing, or are they found nationwide? Share your memories. Thanks.


    • Total Posts: 2902
    • Joined: 4/21/2001
    • Location: Round Rock, TX
    RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 6:35 PM (permalink)
    I wouldn't exactly call it an "oasis", but there was a restaurant built over the highway (it spans the interstate, and cars drive under) on I-44 halfway between Tulsa and the Missouri state line. We used to stop there on our frequent trips to Tulsa (had relatives there).

    Even as a kid, I never thought the food was good, so it must have been really bad. Great idea, though, and it's still a neat building.

    It's now a McDonalds. The structures supporting the restaurant over the highway are "arches", so that fit right it. Those arches are now, of course, yellow.

      • Total Posts: 228
      • Joined: 9/22/2003
      • Location: St. Paul, MN
      RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 6:38 PM (permalink)
      Yes. I was a teenager and had a car when I was 16 (1965) in the Chicago area. We would go to the Fred Harvey oasis restaurants and hang out and drink coffee. (they were open 24/7) We would flirt with the waitresses. Especially in Summer when there was no school and the gals could work late nights. They were pretty fancy compared to the 24/7 diners and grills around the neighborhood. saucers with the cups of coffee, not the thick walled heavy ceramic mugs like Harlo grill on 25th and North. They transformed a lot since those days and went to Howard Johnson's restaurants before grabbing on to a fast food chain and even changing that over and over again. What are they now? Mickey D's? or Wendy's? I think they mix and match and have 31 flavors along with the burger joints now. great memories though.

        • Total Posts: 214
        • Joined: 7/17/2003
        • Location: La Crosse, WI
        RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 7:23 PM (permalink)
        Wow! Memories, memories. I used to think the Belvidere oasis was the coolest place. It was usually our second bathroom stop when traveling east on I-90. Never actually got to eat at the Howard Johnson's, though. My mother used to pack picnics because it was cheaper than feeding three or four kids at restaurants.
          mayor al

          • Total Posts: 15066
          • Joined: 8/20/2002
          • Location: Louisville area, Southern Indiana
          • Roadfood Insider
          RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 7:52 PM (permalink)
          The Oasis was a spin-off of the Harvey House Railroad Station restaurants from the days of passenger trains. Fred Harvey developed the Harvey House concept for the Santa Fe RR as it expanded westward. Prior to his era, food on trains was a very 'risky' business. Trains stopped and the passengers would run into the station where vendors of various products would charge the going rate for items whose origins would often be untraceable. Harvey established a chain of station restaurants that maintained a high standard for food and service. He hired "women of quality and education" to work in these establishments. They had an unusual contract , one that included moral and social rules as well as the usual work-related rules to go by. When the trains began to provide food service "on the run" Harvey became the head of the Santa Fe's food service division. Santa Fe used the image of quality that the Harvey Houses had built to "brag on" their excellent meal service on trains like the Super Chief and El Capitan. With the demise of the passenger rail service after World War II his company branched out to get it's market share of the new Highway Traveler Market. Unfortunately he mis-judged the desire of the majority of traveler to 'eat on the run' and as fast food increased the Oasis Concept waned.
          Now aren't you glad you brought all this up? We will include a test on this material in the next semester exam.
          AL- A serious student of Santa Fe RR History- Bowen

            • Total Posts: 228
            • Joined: 9/22/2003
            • Location: St. Paul, MN
            RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 8:06 PM (permalink)
            Thank you mayer. Very informative in a Cliff Clavin sort of way. Just joking, of course, great to learn about such things. Speaking of the Super Chief and El Capitan, I was on the Empire Builder just two weeks ago, they could use Fred harvey now!!!
              Ort. Carlton.

              • Total Posts: 3589
              • Joined: 4/9/2003
              • Location: Athens, GA
              RE: Highway Overpass Oases Thu, 09/25/03 10:49 PM (permalink)
              I think there's atleast one of them still in use on the Ohio Turnpike, and probably one or two - if not several - similarly ensconced in Pennsylvania. Can anyone verify/confirm/deny?
              Reasonably similarly, in a village in England, they built a main highway around a pub that had been there since the likes of 1717. One roadway heads one way, the other the other. Zebra crossings and a reduced speed limit protect the pub patrons, notwithstanding that the car park is across the road.
              Cask A Silly Question, Ort. Carlton in Handpulled-Pintless (Although We Do Have a VERY Good Brewpub That Serves Oatmeal Stout On A Nitrous Tap) Athens,Georgia.

                • Total Posts: 2835
                • Joined: 3/14/2003
                • Location: Fox River Valley, IL
                RE: Highway Overpass Oases Fri, 09/26/03 9:19 AM (permalink)
                KimChee, I took I-90 up to Rockford about a month ago and the Belvidere Oasis is being reconstructed. It's closed now but a sign said it would reopen in 2004. We used to hang out at the Oasis by O'Hare in the 60's. Is there one there anymore? I take I-88 in to the city now because it's closer.

                  • Total Posts: 382
                  • Joined: 8/25/2003
                  • Location: Chicago, IL
                  RE: Highway Overpass Oases Fri, 09/26/03 10:22 AM (permalink)
                  KLAND01S: Do you mean the DesPlaines oasis? I'm not sure if it's closed now. I'll be heading out to O'Hare soon, anyway, so I'll pay closer attention then. It's funny how we take things for granted...I've seen the DesPlaines oasis frequently, but I really had to stop and think just now, "Is it closed? Is it open? I don't know."

                  I have the same problem when I drive down certain streets every day here in town. I'll come along one day and puzzle over seeing a new vacant lot where an old house once stood. Honestly, I'll rack my brain then trying to remember what the old house looked like. Guess I'm getting old...
                    Julia I

                    RE: Highway Overpass Oases Fri, 09/26/03 10:37 AM (permalink)
                    When I travel from Milwaukee to Chicago via the Interstate, I still like to stop at the Oasis, get an ice cream cone, and lean with my head against the glass watching the cars appear from the underpass and continue south. (Somehow, watching them appear always seemed cooler than watching them approach and disappear underneath.)

                      • Total Posts: 4542
                      • Joined: 11/20/2000
                      • Location: Rogue Valley
                      RE: Highway Overpass Oases Fri, 09/26/03 4:15 PM (permalink)
                      hey Mr.Mayor, didn't know you were a Santa Fe guy. My grandfather, JW atkinson, worked his way up to be mechanical superintendent of the eastern lines.He retired in 1950 rather than accept a VP post, which would have required him to move to Chicago.(again) My uncle Bob was the head electrician at the Argentine shops, and my uncle Karyl worked under him.My grandfather hired my future stepfather in 1937 to be a yard engineer because he couldn't afford to be a Schoolteacher/football coach in Lebo, Kansas. Our family history revolves around the Argentine district of KCK and is intertwined with the Santa Fe. My grandfather's brother, Russell, ran a grocery store there and headed AG(associated grocers) for a while, and my mother worked at the Kansas City Structural Steel, which was dependent upon Santa Fe for transportation. (they built bridges) But before it was the steel plant, it was a silver smelter which refined silver from ore brought fromNew Mexico along the Santa Fe. Most of my basic food memories are ingrained from those experiences as a young KCK boy. lots of mexican and other ethnic food as a result of being along the rail line.
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