Daily Herald opinion: Pheasant Run Resort's end was a foregone conclusion, but did it have to go like this?

This editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Daily Herald Editorial Board. It has been updated from its original publication to correctly state the height of a tower built at Pheasant Run Resort.

Sometimes, there is nothing left to do but mourn.

OK, so perhaps mourning is too strong a term, but how else to reflect the sadness a community feels at the inglorious fate of what was once a suburban treasure, the Pheasant Run Resort.

Perhaps only Edward McArdle could have imagined - or have faith in - the possibilities for a hotel and restaurant in the middle of a cornfield in 1959. But McArdle built his dream on the 180-acre former Airport Farm, and within a matter of only a few years, Pheasant Run had become a regional entertainment destination.

Helicopters brought wealthy guests to St. Charles to dine in one of the facility's four restaurants.

The Pheasant Run Playhouse would bring superstars of the era - names like Mimi Hines, Phyllis Diller, William Shatner, Betty Grable and Larry Hageman - to St. Charles to entertain guests in one of the only venues of its type outside the city of Chicago.

Eventually, the complex would grow to boast 325 hotel rooms, 35 convention rooms, the theater, a 14-story tower, a leased 18-hole golf course and a two-block replica of New Orleans' Bourbon Street lined with boutiques and French Quarter-style balconies.

On Sunday, what was left of Bourbon Street was a smoldering pile of ash and charred beams. Fire broke out at the hotel on Saturday afternoon. More than 20 area departments joined St. Charles firefighters in an operation that lasted more than 24 hours. As late as Monday afternoon, a St. Charles Fire Department Unit remained on scene to quell occasional resurgent hot spots. The cause of the blaze may not be known for weeks.

By this point, the bitterness of the loss of Pheasant Run has lost much of its sting, of course. The resort had been in decline for years before owners who had purchased the property from the McArdle family mounted a failed effort to auction it, then shut it down in March 2020.

A variety of development proposals have emerged, and St. Charles officials continue to welcome and consider ideas for rejuvenating what had been a key attraction in its once-stunning gateway to the community. That the resort itself or any portion of it would survive whatever eventual development ideas win out seems an unlikely hope.

But a raging weekend inferno? Is this the final vision to which we must consign so many fond memories?

Yes, "mourning" is a strong term for an icon whose end has been a virtual fait accompli for two years. But we cannot let the moment pass without at least a nod to the glamour and glory the place once brought to the suburbs and a shrug of sadness for the ignominy of its demise.

Rick Hambel, of Winfield, who watched the fire on Saturday, may have captured the sense of the moment about as well as could be done.

"It's a shame," he told our reporters at the scene. "It was a pretty cool place."

So it was.

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