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Libertyville auto shop closes after 110 years

Hank Bert Rehm 1985. The brothers were part third generatiwork Rehm's AuBody Shop. | Phocourtesy Jeff Rehm.

Hank and Bert Rehm in 1985. The brothers were part of the third generation to work in Rehm's Auto Body Shop. | Photo courtesy of Jeff Rehm.

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Updated: June 5, 2013 2:30AM

A Libertyville auto shop that did work on a car owned by Al Capone and drew wealthy patrons from throughout the state must finally close its doors after 110 years.

Rehm’s Auto Body Shop — known for its dent removals, custom work and paint jobs — got hired by well-to-do families, local municipalities and gearheads from throughout Northern Illinois for a century.

“Our paint jobs were known statewide,” Al Rehm said. “There was always someone we didn’t know from some from some far off place who would show up asking for work on their cars.”

The 4.1-acre lot near Buckley Road and River Road once held two houses, a barn and a car shop that were home to five generations of the Rehm family, and was visited by countless auto enthusiasts. Al and Jeff Rehm are brothers and members of the fourth generation clan. As they picked the shop apart in recent weeks they reminisced on the century of family life and service to the auto community.

“As I drive through Libertyville, I don’t see any building with a familiar name,” Jeff said. “It’s a sign of the times. I guess that happens after 50, 75, 100 years.”

The legacy started in the early 1900s. Henrick Rehm immigrated to the United States in 1880 and was a wagon builder in Chicago until he decided to move to the area now known as Libertyville in 1902.

Henrick had two homes in Chicago and slowly dismantled one of them and transported it piece-by-piece to his new property off Buckley Road and River Road. The house was then reassembled, and one of the exterior doors became a family favorite after they realized the frame had rubbed against a wagon wheel during the trip.

Jeff said his great-grandfather (Henrick) wanted to be grape farmer initially, but people from Chicago continued to write him and appear at the property asking for work on wagons.

“He was too well-known to retire,” Jeff said. “He built a shop next to the house and that’s when it started: Every Rehm boy worked there at one point or another.”

Henrick died in 1915 and his only son Henry took over the family business. As automobiles became more popular, the same oven Henrick used to heat and expand steel rims on wagon wheels became the oven Henry used to bake the enamel on car parts after they were painted.

Henry died in 1960 and his sons Henry (Hank), Albert (Bert), and Ed (Doc) took over the shop and lived on the land.

Jeff and Al are Bert’s sons. While Jeff moved to Indiana and became trained in computers, Al and his sons Richard and Ross stayed and worked the shop until its closure in January.

Some of the family’s fond memories include an instance in the 1930s when Al and Jeff’s father was hired to paint fire trucks.

“Our dad finished the job and had an extra can of the paint,” Jeff said. “Fire trucks are painted with a special tint of red, so he painted his Buick with the extra paint. He was the talk of the town.”

Jeff and Al say an old Ford Model T is rumored to be buried somewhere on the land. Jeff said the most commonly told story involves a drop-off job that nobody came back for and his uncles and grandfather worried it was a mob-stolen car.

Rehm’s Auto Body Shop also did work on a car formerly owned by Al Capone. Jeff said a nearby wealthy car collector asked the family to “give it the works” after acquiring the relic some time after Capone’s death.

But a controversial life estate with the Lake County Forest Preserve District ended the family’s run. Their shop is on the border of Independence Grove Forest Preserve, a highly visited venue.

Al and Jeff say the forest preserve wanted the land and threatened to use eminent domain in 1976 unless their father and uncles would sign the $29,400 life estate.

Hank Rehm was last of the three uncles listed on the estate, and he died in December after an accident in his nursing home. The forest preserve has given Al and Jeff until the end of April to remove all possessions from the land.

“It’s really sad because after the woods grow out, you’d never know a family lived there for 100 years,” Jeff said. “It’s not like a corner of downtown everybody drives past and would point out.”

Mike Tully is the director of operations and public safety for the Lake County Forest Preserve District. He confirmed the life estate and found a record saying the district considered condemning the land in 1975, one year prior to the life estate.

“I cannot confirm or deny any intentions made back then,” Tully said. “The Rehm property has not been a point of contention aside from a few isolated complaints regarding junked cars near the garage. We’re more than willing to work with the family on properly removing anything of sentimental value.”

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