by Michael R. Allen
Driving to Granite City today I passed a familiar landmark: the abandoned Fantasyland strip club, a massive metal-clad hulk whose only noteworthy architectural feature is the neon sign on its front. Since the last time I passed by, there had been a fire, with the south end of the building sporting gaping holes ringed by black-stained siding. The fire was not completely shocking, given how easy access was to the shoddy and highly-flammable interior.
Four years ago, out of curiosity, I ventured inside with a friend. This has been my only trip inside of a strip club, and I have to say I was pretty downhearted after seeing the water-damaged carpeting, peeling paneling and other dingy trappings inside. The thought of the place in full operation — lights down, stage lights on, dancers on the stage — was more upsetting than anything. What fantasy could be limited to the dull confines and hasty construction of this strip club?
Further north on Route 3, at the intersection of 4th and Broadway in Venice, the corner storefront I’ve watched for years was halfway down. Men were palletizing bricks. The storefront, with excellent vernacular Romanesque brick detailing, has long been a landmark in this town.
Meanwhile, up in Granite City, condemnation notices adorned several downtown buildings, including the ramshackle but one-proud row of flats on Niedringhaus Avenue. With myriad careless window alterations, problematic masonry repairs and general disrepair, this row has suffered much over the years. But the original beauty is still apparent, and in a state with a historic rehabilitation tax credit a building like this in a downtown like this one would be facing better prospects.
Perhaps the condemnation notices are part of Mayor Ed Hanganuaer’s continued mishandling of the historic buildings of downtown Granite City. In 2006, under the mayor’s watch, 15 buildings in the downtown area were demolished at a cost of $90,000, including many structurally sound historic buildings. For that cost, the city extinguished the much greater economic impact of historic rehabilitation.
The next time I make the trip up Route 3 to Granite City, I will face a road missing a few of the markers myself and others use to know where we are — to know what places we are passing through. Obviously, I am not sad to see Fantasyland fall; that building was nondescript and place-defying. Other buildings and structures along Route 3 are not. These are markers that beckon us to stop and learn, and that might entice some of us to invest time and money.