Once the next best thing to a ticket to the World Series, a stopped watch

Before the era of radio or television, The Rock Island Argus “broadcast” the World Series and all important national and world events from the “Bulletin Board” on the front building of its awesome corner lot downtown.

Thousands would sometimes line the streets to “watch” the games on The Argus building.

More on that later. To my point:

Why is this incredibly historic Rock Island building sitting empty?

I don’t get it.

The former Rock Island Argus building downtown has been sitting empty for a long time now. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only person who thinks it’s special.

I’m not. In fact, the city of Rock Island declared the building one of Rock Island’s “Top 100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures” in 2009.

It is just sitting there like a grand lady. But she’s a grand lady who says, “That’s fine, just keep walking by and ignoring me, my day is coming again.”

The building itself might not look like much from the outside. I think it looks awesome and classic, but I understand some might think differently.

But, oh my gosh. You should see the inside.

I had the privilege of working inside that building for a year when I moved back to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles many years ago.

I can say, without hesitation, it absolutely was the coolest newspaper newsroom architecturally that I ever have worked in. Even cooler than the former Detroit News building, which became the Detroit/News Free Press building, and also was sitting empty in that city for a while.

Until someone saw it for its worth.

Check out this remarkable transformation.

The Argus building is similar to The Detroit News building many ways, but not nearly as big, and minus the over the top managing editor’s office.

Think about how many awesome old newspaper buildings might be sitting empty around the U.S. right now. Smart cities have assisted in turning them into new uses. If it’s Rock Island, that probably would be condos and/or apartments.

That would be better than nothing, I guess, but definitely a last resort, if you ask me. Office space, like the former Detroit news building? It could only house one major tenant from the way I see it, with smaller offices on the mezzanine. A fine restaurant would be better.

It would be incredible. A restaurant of the quality of Le Figaro, yet dare I say with a building more appropriate for serving scrumptious, delectable, quality food.

The building has amazing karma. I felt a calming presence there even during a particularly difficult time of my life.

A 2015 Quad-City Times story reported the building is owned by Davenport Realtor Thad Denhartog, whose name is on the leasing sign hanging out front. A quick search of the Rock Island County property tax database did not return a result for 1724 4th Ave., Rock Island.

Life in the Argus fish bowl

When I worked in the Argus building, I had a fish bowl on my desk with two giant goldfish in it. Another assistant city editor, Jackie Chesser, became concerned they would die without aeration.

That’s when the bubble machine came – the air pump and charcoal filter I bought at whatever Pick-A-Pet became, I cannot immediately recall.

The acoustics in the Argus building are incredible – if Augustana gets their hands on it, it will become a theater, which also would be cool.

In fact, it already has been a theater — one of The District’s theater’s many homes, for a time in 2015.

Back to my point. Soon, my bubbles became the white noise every zany newsroom needs.

And the bursting water bubbles from the fishbowl aerator slowly destroyed the city editor’s files, which were sitting on a rack not far from the fishbowl, across from my desk.

Will a Stern or a Stanley Goldman step up to save the Argus building?

The Argus building has soaring ceilings. An ornate egg-and-dart design on the ceiling, like those found in ancient Greek buildings, keeps watch over a mezzanine and a large room below.

An Argus, by the way, is a creature in Greek mythology with eyes all around its head.

Think about what you could do with the mezzanine. A bar separate from the restaurant? How about a Greek restaurant, complete with flaming cheese. Opa!

Speaking of mezzanines, who can forget the one inside the Stern Center, formerly Hyman’s furniture, and of course McCabe’s Department Store before that. Lolly lolly get your S & H Green Stamps here.

Would you like a grilled cheese platter while you shop? Get it in a full-service diner overlooking the (once) fine department store.

What the Sterns have done for that building is true community service. It goes without saying that Stanley Goldman did more than his fair share as well, and both will forever be considered among Rock Island’s great contributors.

The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus moved the news operation to the Dispatch building many years ago.

If Moline and Davenport can do it, why can’t we?

I think about cities like Moline and the amazing redevelopment projects that go on there, and of course Davenport, too – the Blackhawk Hotel is a stunning example. To me, The Argus building needs to be considered of that import.

The city should help facilitate a deal to get that building occupied with an appropriate use. That building’s open yet ornate style is the type that attracts entrepreneurs with cool ideas.

Or will it sit like the armory and fall into pieces until someone falls through the roof? And then…WRECKING BALL!

Not that the wrecking ball demolishing the armory was bad. To me, Schwiebert Park is an incredible addition to our city. I love it.

But we can’t let a place like The Argus building end up like that, and I think it could. Maybe Rock Island could give Restoration St. Louis a jingle. Or let Brian Hollenback apartmentize it, but it can’t just sit there empty. It’s been too long already.

And I don’t see how you could apartmentize it without ruining the spirit of the interior – the acoustics, the ceiling, the mezzanine, large exterior windows, etc.

World events ‘broadcast’ from Argus ‘Bulletin Board’

Hopefully you made it this far, because this is the best part of the column. Check out this little piece of history about The Argus building, from the city’s website:

One of the most important features of the exterior of the building was the bulletin board in the days before radio and television. It was placed over the entrance at a 45-degree angle. To operate the bulletin board, someone had to climb through the trap door in the newsroom into a pit. Here the operator could post latest news, including the scoreboard of the World Series. Operators watched the Western Union ticker and then moved the ball around the field and the players around the bases on the scoreboard. It was not unusual for hundreds and sometimes thousands of spectators to stand outside and watch the scoreboard during the entire game. A projection machine was also sometimes used to project bulletins on a transparent screen located directly behind the plate glass. After the emergence of television in the 1940s, the paper no longer used the scoreboard and eventually stopped using the window for bulletins. In 1992, the window was removed and replaced by a large bronze sign that identified the building as the home of The Rock Island Argus

Old girl’s got kick. Like the millions of out-of-work newspaper people who have had to reinvent themselves over the past decade, she’s spunky and will rise again. Somebody’s gonna see her for the beauty she is eventually.

Now. Don’t get me started on the Rock Island County Courthouse building. What are we going to do with that when the time comes?

Demolition can’t be an option.

Who’s with me on any of this?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s