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Henrici's Motor Inn and Restaurant came into being when Alvin and Max Liebling of Rockford developed the motel and restaurant for $1.8 million on a 13-acre tract of land they owned located at East State Street at the entrance to I-90. The complex had 120 guest rooms. It included a 215 seat restaurant, an outdoor heated swimming pool, color television in all rooms, banquet halls to accommodate 400 people, a coffee shop as well as an adjacent auto service center named the Tollway Gulf. The architects for the complex were Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett and Dart of Chicago.
Construction on the complex started in 1966 with the official opening of the Henrici's Motor Inn and Restaurant occurring in May 1968. The Henrici's Restaurant chain was owned by John R. Thompson Company of Chicago which operated 38 restaurants. They would lease and operate the convention center and restaurant at the motor inn.
Advertisement for the Henrici's Motor Inn and Restaurant Grand Opening on May 10, 11 and 12, 1968
In 1969 Central National Realty Corporation owned by Rockford industrialist Seth Atwood, part of the Atwood Family who started the Atwood Vacuum Machine Company in 1909, purchases the property from the Lieblings. The purchase price was not disclosed. John R. Thompson Company, a separate firm, leases and operates the convention center and restaurant.
In 1970 Seth Atwood moved his world famous collection of time keeping devices, into a basement museum he had constructed at the motel. It was named the Time Museum and included in the 1,500-object collection were sundials, nocturnals, water clocks, sand-glasses, chronometers, and astronomical regulators as well as domestic clocks and watches, most from the 17th century through 1920. The unusual clocks collected from all over the world, would become the main feature of the motel complex.
In 1970 the Atwood family began a 3-phase expansion of the Henrici's complex. By April 1972 Henrici's Motor Inn and Restaurant had completed the construction of its new facilities which included an indoor swimming pool, a health club with sauna, a whirlpool, and "Henrici's Grand Ballroom," a hall with banquet seating capacity for 1,000 persons with a separate lobby. A dance floor was built into the center of the hall, which could also be divided into six smaller rooms with capacity for 150 to 200 persons, depending upon the type of meeting. Also in 1972 Green Giant buys the restaurant and convention center operations from the John R. Thompson Company.
In 1973 the hotel name was changed from Henrici's Motor Inn and Restaurant to Clock Tower Inn. Construction started on a theater, and a clock tower that was intended to give the complex a distinctive identity, as well as serving as a highly visible landmark on the tollway for the city of Rockford. The clock tower was 20-by-20 foot square, 100 feet high, with large clocks on all four faces. The architects for the new tower were Larson & Darby. Workers for C. A. Pierce Incorporated in Rockford installed the first two huge clock faces on the tower outside the hotel. The clock faces were ten feet in diameter, and the numbers one- foot tall. It was erected adjacent to the building of the Motor Inn Complex and was completed in 1974.
Beside the Time Museum, it was the theater that offered an alternative because it was something Rockford didn't have. Citizen Kane - a 1941 film starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton was chosen to be the new theater's first showing on December 14, 1973, because it is considered the greatest American sound film. It was based on the life and career of William Randolph Hearst. The theater's name, The Second Reel was based on the historic significance to films of "the second reel," when movies stopped being short subjects and became a modern art form.
1978 - The Pillsbury Company took over the restaurant and Convention Center as part of a $165 million deal with Green Giant, who had bought the restaurant and the Convention Center in 1972 from John R. Thompson Company. United Realty filed suit in Circuit Court against Green Giant after the transaction, alleging illegal reassigning its interest to Pillsbury. It also charged Green Giant was operating a competitive restaurant, The Hoffman House at the Ramada Inn located close by at 7550 E State Street, now a Holiday Inn.
In 1980 United Realty Corporation controlled by the Atwood family consolidated operations of the Clock Tower when they purchased Henrici's Restaurant and Convention Center from Pillsbury. Now United Realty operated both the lodging and food services in the motel complex. The Atwood's also launched a $4 million expansion, that included a 350-seat entertainment center, 54 more motel rooms which (from 199 rooms up to 253), doubled the size of The Time Museum, added two outdoor tennis courts and 4,000 square feet of meeting space. In order to complete the expansion, the gasoline station at 7965 East State Street was bought and was demolished for parking and landscaping.
Clock Tower Resort becomes an affiliate of the Best Western International Lodging Association in 1985 in hopes of making it easier for visitors outside the Midwest to find the Clock Tower.
In 1988, The Clock Tower Resort and Conference Center remodeled it’s all day dining restaurant and changed the name from the "Coffee House" to "The Pocket Watch Restaurant". The restaurant was decorated with artwork related to the pocket watch industry. The name was selected to continue the hotel's theme. Another expansion also occurred that year when sixty hotel rooms were added along with 4,500 square feet of meeting space bringing the total number of hotel rooms to more than 300 and meeting space up to about 20,000 square feet.
In November 1990 after the Clock Tower Resort reaches an agreement to annex to Cherry Valley which did not levy a property tax. The idea sparked criticism from the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce and community and business leaders, after all by then it was considered a Rockford landmark. Rockford officials lobbied Clock Tower owners to annex to Rockford. Rockford won and the complex was annexed into the city.
In 1992, renovation began of the huge clocks on the hotel tower, a project that included refurbishing the hands and synchronizing the movements. In 1994 The Clock Tower Resort announced two health-oriented moves that doubled the size of its fitness center and banned smoking in its open-air atrium-style restaurant. The Clock Tower wanted to be the first restaurant in Rockford to make the change.
Over the years, the Clock Tower housed prominent guests including Red Skelton, Gerald Ford and Bob Hope, and many more.
In 1999 the Regency Hotel Management of Sioux Falls, South Dakota would buy the resort from the Atwood family in May for eleven million dollars. As part of the deal, the Atwood's closed the Time Museum and sold 1,550 time pieces to the city of Chicago for twenty five million dollars.
Regency Hotel Management sold the resort to Denver-based WPH Rockford LLC and Sage Hospitality in 2005. That ownership group spent $26.7 million renovating the hotel and building CoCo Key, a 60,000 square foot indoor water park, which opened in January 2007. In 2011 the hotel was subsequently sold by WPH Rockford and Sage Hospitality at auction to current owners Allied Hospitality Incorporated of Houston, Texas.
The many expansions over the years included guest room and suites, additions and remodeling, convention and banquet space, dinner theater, indoor/outdoor swimming pools, indoor racquetball courts, 7 indoor and two outdoor tennis courts, basketball courts, CoCo Keys, conference rooms, several dining options, health club. The entire complex covers over 26 acres.
The Clock Tower Resort was closed in November 2016 for repairs and upgrades. Repairs were not made, electricity and other utilities were cut off due to non-payment, and the few businesses that remained left the facility to move elsewhere or closed. In May 2017, a group of investors purchased the former Clock Tower Resort with plans to demolish the structure, plans beyond that at this point are unknown at this time. I will update this information as it becomes available.
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