More than 80 years of memories came tumbling down Thursday, when an excavation crew demolished the building that housed Becherer’s Tavern and Dandy Inn Irish Pub & Restaurant in Fairview Heights.
Workers started with the enclosed back patio on Wednesday, prompting word to spread on social media. About 20 bystanders gathered early Thursday morning to witness the toppling of the main two-story brick structure at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Old Collinsville Road.
That included Mark Daniels, who operated the Dandy Inn before retiring in 2017, as well as his son, Casey, 28, and a smattering of former employees. The business had been in the Daniels family for 40 years.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s time,” said Mark Daniels, 59, who now lives in rural Edwardsville. “It was an icon. ... I don’t think anybody was happy that it closed, but they understand.”
Last year, Daniels sold the 1933 building to Moto Inc., a Belleville-based company that plans to replace it with a convenience store, gas station, car wash and restaurant.
Daniels knows that many people didn’t want to lose the local landmark. Hundreds took to Facebook when Moto announced its development plans last fall, many in protest. Some pointed out that it was one of the oldest buildings in the relatively young city of Fairview Heights.
But according to Casey, the vast majority of public comments were supportive on Wednesday, when he posted the first demolition photos. Most people used the opportunity to reminisce about the Dandy Inn’s fried fish, chicken wings and wildly popular St. Patrick’s Day parties.
“It’s emotional,” Casey said. “We still have the picture of the marquee sign that says, ‘Congratulations, Mark, on the baby boy.’ That was 28 years ago. I grew up here.”
Mayor’s ancestors opened first tavern
Also on hand for the demolition was O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach Jr. His grandfather, Adam Becherer, built the structure. At one time, it was a combination tavern, grocery store and filling station with living quarters and a grange meeting hall upstairs.
But Roach’s family history at the site goes back much further. In the mid-1800s, his great-great-grandfather Henry Becherer opened Ridge Prairie Saloon, which doubled as a trading post and hotel for travelers on the Vincennes Trace.
Roach’s parents, Herb Sr. and the former Katheryn Becherer, sold Becherer’s Tavern in 1977 to Mark Daniels’ parents, Dave and Phillis, who renamed it Dandy Inn Irish Pub & Restaurant.
“You’re always going to be sad, thinking about all the memories,” said Roach, 73. “But you’ve got to move things forward. ... It’s not an historical building. It was only built in 1933, and to bring it up to code with all the plumbing and electrical regulations, the cost would have been astronomical.”
Earlier this week, Roach gathered his extended family for a photo in front of the building, which had a stone engraved with the name “A. Becherer.”
Workers removed the stone Wednesday before starting demolition. It will become part of a corner monument to commemorate the site’s history, said Rob Forsyth, president of Moto Inc. and vice president of subsidiary FKG Oil Co., which operates more than 75 stores in six states.
“I don’t think we’ve ever taken a piece of architecture from an old building and incorporated it into a new building, but we’re doing it in this case,” he said.
Couple found love at Irish pub
Other bystanders watching the demolition included former waitress, bartender and manager Jessica Jerashen, 32, and her boyfriend, Billy Collins, 35, both of O’Fallon. They met at the Dandy Inn four years ago.
The couple were chatting with Erin Pugh, 38, of Fairview Heights, an employee for 16 years.
“It’s really sad,” Pugh said of the demolition. “It was my second home. I was more sad yesterday, when I heard that they were tearing it down. Today, I’m more intrigued by the whole thing. It doesn’t seem quite real.”
The three stood in the parking lot of the strip mall across Old Collinsville Road, waiting on an excavator with a giant claw-like bucket to make it around to the front of the building.
Pat and Bob Bruce also showed up to watch Thursday morning, but with temperatures in the high 40s, they stayed in their van to keep warm. They’ve lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.
“We’re just gawking,” said Pat, 77, who wasn’t as regular as some Dandy Inn customers. “... We’d come up and get fish on Fridays, but we didn’t really sit down and eat. We’re not drinkers. It’s just a landmark that’s been here for awhile.”
The Bruces noted that some people in the neighborhood were against Moto moving in because of the anticipated congestion, including big trucks.
Paul Ellis, Fairview Heights economic development director, acknowledged that plans to demolish the Dandy Inn building and replace it with a gas station caused controversy. But, he said, opposition seemed to dissipate after people got used to the idea and learned the facts.
“They have accepted that the building doesn’t lend itself to redevelopment, and that’s why it’s being torn down,” he said. “It’s sad, but I think it’s necessary. I don’t think there are people who are upset about it anymore. At least I haven’t heard anything.”
Reminder of the good old days
Legal Assistant Tammy Frederking, 60, of Okawville, watched the demolition from her law office across Lincoln Highway, where she has worked for nearly 30 years. She had heard that the building was going to be torn down, but it didn’t sink in until Wednesday morning.
Frederking and her co-workers often ordered fried-fish carryouts from the Dandy Inn, or she would meet friends there for dinner.
“It was a landmark,” she said. “It reminded people of what Fairview Heights was like in the old days.”
Nicholas Alsup, 26, of O’Fallon, also had a birds-eye view of the demolition on Thursday morning. He owns 5 Elements Fitness studio in the strip mall.
“(The Dandy Inn has) been in town for awhile, and people are sentimental about it,” Alsup said. “I went there to eat, and they had good food. The wings were my favorite. I’ll miss it. ... But Mark deserves a break. It’s a big retirement for him, and now he can do whatever he wants to do.”
Some interested parties couldn’t witness the demolition in person. They included Bob Becherer, of Stony Brook, New York, and his brother Richard from Pennsylvania.
They lived in the building when their father, Adam Becherer Jr., operated the business with his brother Orville. At the time, it was called “Becherer Bros. Tavern.” That was before Adam Jr. turned over his share to his sister and brother-in-law, Katheryn and Herb Roach Sr.
Bob Becherer got his last look at the building in August, when he traveled to Belleville for a class reunion. Richard visited the area in July, and Forsyth allowed him to tour the inside.
“(Richard) said there was a big hole in the ceiling, and there was water cascading into the building,” said Bob, 77. “It was in terrible shape. There was insulation all over the place, and the basement was filled with water. If it wasn’t being torn down, it would probably fall down. It was dangerous.”
Former owner enjoying retirement
Daniels sold the Dandy Inn building and surrounding properties, including a small home, for a reported $1.15 million last year.
He was ready to retire from the restaurant and bar business, and son Casey wasn’t planning to take over. Casey is an Ecolab sales representative who lives in Edwardsville. After leaving the Dandy Inn, Daniels started a company that specializes in cleaning draft-beer lines.
Last year, Forsyth said the Moto location at Lincoln Highway and Old Collinsville Road will be one of the company’s “next generation stores,” similar to the new location at Fullerton Road and Illinois 161. Its menu includes specialty coffees, custom salads and other “made-to-order” food, including meats smoked on site.
“The convenience-store concept is ever changing to meet the needs of the community,” Forsyth said in October of 2018.
Plans call for the Fairview Heights Moto store to be 5,700 square feet with 16 gas pumps.
St. Clair County Historical Society didn’t take a position on the company’s plans to demolish the 86-year-old structure built by the Becherers, some of the region’s first German settlers. Curator Will Shannon said last year that he would like to see some kind of marker erected to tell the site’s history.
“I’m somewhat comforted in the knowledge that my grandfather’s name is going to be part of a monument on that corner,” Bob Becherer said Thursday. “My family was a real presence there for over 100 years.”