The Taj Mahal of Illinois


The Taj Mahal in India, from whom this design is stolen, was built as a labor of love (or love lost).
It was built as a mausoleum for the Mughal Emperor's favorite wife.
It was completed in 1653, three hundred years exactly before the birth of the current builder.
This modern version, as well, is a labor of love though without the morbid side.

This building, though not a portal to heaven like its inspiration, is nonetheless somewhat divinely inspired.
There are NO plans, NO drawings, NO blueprints, NO surveying transits.
As a nod to Dean's training as a mathematician, an analog tape measure with numbers was used.
If the god(s) are assisting him, they certainly are reserved with the spigot.
Perhaps this compels Dean to try harder. Or makes him more grateful.
All the components for this building have come in nearly the correct amounts.
So much stone, so many I-beams, so many timbers, so many windows.
The waste from the total of this job would not even fill half a dump truck. So far about ten garbage cans.
And components come only at the last minute and as needed and not what Dean thought he needed or wanted.
The I-beams came after the columns were up. The roof beams came after the I-beams were up.
The wooden beams came after the roof beams were up. The windows came after the wooden beams were up.
The stainless steel came after the windows were in (sort of).

The current builder (Dean) felt that if he would build a castle, a princess would come.
This has turned out to not be the case, as two would-be princesses have bailed out.
Prospective princesses studiously avoid the premises likely because it smacks of incredibly hard work (kids these days).
So now this incredible structure, which has been built by the sheer determination of one man, is vacant.
It is still a work in progress, but is inhabited only by rare snow leopards (okay- polydactyl tortoise-shell cats).

The story begins in January 1982 when the current builder was wintering in Jamaica and he received a telegram from his friend, Don Bellon.
Don Bellon, owns Bellon Wrecking Comapny of St. Louis and Dean had demolished numerous large structures for him in previous years.
Dean had a reputation that he could drop a hundred foot tall building within a hundred foot circle.
He would do this without explosives, but with a piece of crane cable woven in and out of openings.
He would then back off some distance with a very large Caterpillar (977L) and draw the cable tight like a purse string.

Don requested that Dean interupt his endeavors in Jamaica and fly up to look at a building at 8th and Washington in St. Louis.
Dean flew up, went to the address and found Amitin's Book Store which he had frequented in his youth for antiquarian books.
He was rather irritated that Don would have him fly up to wreck a three-storey building.
He called Don and Don asked "Could he hand-wreck it?"
"Obviously," Dean answered getting a bit perturbed.
Don replied "Put an eight foot chain link fence around the entire block."
Dean looked across the street from Amitin's and there was this magnificent ten-storey stone building.
"Oh." (That's what he wants wrecked. By hand.)
It was the old Pope's Cafeteria. Dean had eaten there as a child.

The original building on this site was built of Minnesota red sandstone in 1889 in a sort of Sullivanesque carved motif.
It burned that same year. All the stone was salvaged and reversed and sculpted with a feather-cut texture and re-erected in 1890.
Ninety-two years later, Dean and his crew of eighty-three men reduced it to a series of truckloads of brick, timber, iron pipe and stone in the space of two hundred days.

This property was owned by Sorkis Webbe and he wanted it demolished to make parking for the Mayfair Hotel which he owned.
The building was snug up against the Antlers Hotel which was to remain and across the street from the all glass Mercantile Bank Building.
Hence no explosives or headache balls- only hand wreck.
At the end of the wrecking job, there were over a hundred pallets of huge slabs of Minnesota red sandstone.
Dean had taken special pains to remove all of this intact and had implored Don Bellon to allow him to keep it as his share of the salvage.
At that point, Sorkis Webbe informed Dean that he wanted the stone.
Webbe was the head of the Lebanese organization in town (not the Boy Scouts mind you).
His wife was the sister of the head of the Italian mob in St. Louis.
Dean made a very expedient choice and tendered it to Mr. Webbe.
Mr. Webbe ended up stiffing Don and Dean for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the demolition.
At this point, Dean repossessed his stone with the assistance of Century Brick Company and stored it at their yard on Broadway.

In October of 1984, Dean bought his current farm in southern Illinois.
In January of 1985, with his old 1973 El Camino and his puppy, Katie, Dean moved the stone one slab at a time, by hand.
He slid it up a ramp onto his El Camino in the snow and slid it off at the farm and re-palletized it.
It took two months that winter to move one hundred plus tons of stone- by hand.

The story then shifts to 2003.
In between then, Dean had an industrial courier business in Jamaica, and then started a similar operation in Russia.
There he became a Commercial Liaison to the Russian Academy of Sciences.
One of his clients was the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
They had no money, but in return for Dean's services, they offered him the right to exhibit the Russian Dinosaur Show in America.
A friend of Dean's since the 70's in old Soulard/Lafayette Square days was Bob Cassilly.
Bob had this idea for a children's museum downtown in a building he and Bruce Gerrie had bought.
Dean asked him if he wanted the dinosaurs for his grand opening?
Bob asked Dean if he's like to be a co-founder and builder of City Museum?
Sadly, Bob is deceased and City Museum is in the hands of a billionaire miniature golfcourse developer.
In 2003, Dean broke ground for the re-erection of his dream building.

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