Empty Stadiums, Empty Promises

J8255969ohn Dillinger robbed his last bank here in South Bend – the Merchant’s National Bank, at 229 South Michigan Avenue. On June 30, 1934, Dillinger and his gang entered the bank, shot up the ceiling, and got away with $29,000. A South Bend traffic cop, Officer Howard Wagner, lost his life trying to intervene, which prompted J. Edgar Hoover to put a $10,000 bounty on Dillinger’s head. About a month later, Dillinger was gunned down by Chicago police outside the Biograph Theater.

The building at 229 South Michigan Avenue still stands, and you can visit it today. But it’s no longer a bank. In fact, it looks like the Cambodian restaurant that’s housed there now was always there – like it belongs there. It doesn’t even look like the building was ever a bank.

Down the street a piece from the Cambodian restaurant stands another old bank, but this one definitely retains it’s bank-y allure. The building at 911 South Michigan is an imposing edifice with big marble-looking pillars, and it’s frieze still2769984996_d9aae32fa5 bears the name, “South Bend State Bank.” It definitely looks like someplace you’d want to store your cash, maybe even today. I’m not sure what’s there now, but what you can see from the street gives an unmistakeable message of safety and security.

It seems like most banks used to be built that way – big, sturdy, stone, impregnable. It was a marketing ploy even after it became obsolete in terms of actual security – after, that is, money was not kept piled up in safes any more, but was relegated to digital blips on computers and fiber optic filaments.

Today, long after banks transmuted into storefronts in strip malls and mere counter space in grocery stores, colleges and universities have gotten into the act of building big to impress and sell.

Last fall, Colorado State University was in the news for the pricey football stadium they were building, despite the poor performance of the CSU Rams on the field. Even now, after cutting back the plans by $20 million, CSU’s president Tony Frank still insists the $226.5 million they’ll still end up spending is in the University’s “best long-term interest.”131008085725_new-csu-stadium-01

The CSU story is unfolding at a time when stories abound about the sinking relative value of a four-year college degree – and at a time when CSU itself wants to raise tuition by 5%. It seems the more colleges and universities spend on stadiums and amenities, the less cost effective it is for most Americans to obtain a college degree, especially when it involves crushing debt. And even when they do manage to get through college, many graduates struggle to find gainful employment in the fields in which they trained, not to mention the struggle to pay back loans.

So, what’s the alternative? Skip college and become, what, a plumber or something?

Well, maybe. For some – why not?

Better that than, say…, getting robbed.


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