Friday, September 26, 2008

St. Charles, IL: the end?


This massive crater used to be the Manor Pancake House & Restaurant, where my family would go out to eat at least once a fortnight when I was a kid. It stood next to the Fox River on Main Street, and unless you count the Baker Hotel across the street or the clock tower that stands kitty corner across the river, the Manor was the heart of downtown St. Charles. Now you see what's become of it, a beautiful historical building torn down like a common crackhouse. I won't rant any further about this for now, I already said everything that I needed to here back when it was still standing but stood little chance of ever reopening.

I had the feeling this was coming for quite some time, and wasn't exactly surprised when the day finally came. What I wasn't expecting and had not prepared for was this horrible eyesore to suddenly appear on the banks of the Fox just a few hundred feet downstream.


Take a good look at this structure. Click on the picture for a higher resolution shot if you can stomach it. The half-million dollar townhomes in the area were bad enough, but they're positively progressive examples of smart urban planning compared to this luxury condo complex just off Main Street. Just look at those phony rooftops and fake facades. Disgusting. Reminds me of the storefront of Meijer on the corner of Randall and Route 38. In the middle of our current housing crisis, do we need more unaffordable housing, and some as tacky as this giant concrete box? Do people still romanticise loft apartments as hip, trendy status symbols? Do young turks and trixies still crave this urban sophisticate experience, even when it's housed in such a cheap and gaudy-looking giant shoebox? Are there that many potential buyers who want a piece of this lifestyle, but only when it's offered in the minority-free streets of the suburbs?

I used to love this city and every time I'd find myself walking down the street here I'd think about how great it would have been to grow up here instead of the one-horse little hick town 20 minutes to the west where there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Even now I think about how much nicer it is than Aurora and how wonderful it would be to live here instead, even if I wasn't already working here in the first place. Now it seems intent on cashing in its charming but financially worthless "small town" feel to attract the kind of yuppies who consider themselves just too real to live in Naperville. Also, how many more bars does downtown need? Alley 64? Prop me up bro, I'm so wasted!

Meanwhile on the west side of town, Costco sprung up seemingly overnight, building a spectacularly huge big box of their own next to the new Harley-Davidson dealership. As if that vast, energy-sucking blight on our suburban landscape wasn't enough, permanently scarring acres of land with asphalt and attracting scores of men in midlife crisis from all over the suburbs and beyond. I endured (what felt like) a year's worth of road construction to widen the Randall to three lanes in between Oak and Main Street, which I assumed was being done to simply alleviate congestion. Were they just making way for Costco a year in advance? Why do they need this store? Jewel, Meijer, and Dominick's are less than a mile down the road to the south, and the site of the old St. Charles mall remains vacant and strewn with rubble.

I know, I know. Somebody order me a Whaaaburger with a side of cries! But I've always had sentimental feelings about this town and I can't help but feel saddened by the forces at work in it today.

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