Ralphs Dirty Fountain – UPDATE

Whatever this structure is it's a waste of tax dollars. Typical of the current administration and its core of apologetics.

Given to the biggest, most ridiculous or most ironic example of government spending or waste: Ralph’s Fountain at the corner of E. Lincoln Hwy. and 7th Street in DeKalb. Sometimes affectionately known as “Ralph’s Dirty Bookstore” Ralph’s Newsstand was a fixture for most of the 20th Century in DeKalb. Newspapers, magazines, odd Halloween costumes and an assortment of tobacco flavors were available early and or late.

A few years back the City of DeKalb acquired the property (TIF) and demolished the building (TIF). Now they’re putting up a fancy fountain (or maybe its a flower pot) — regardless of the economy (TIF). It was a small, taxpaying parcel. Located on a highly visible, high traffic corner. Now, it’s a park. A City-owned park. Forever tax-less in a City starved for tax revenue. Jeesh.

In practice and in spirit Ralph’s Fountain deserves the Sen. Proxmire Golden Fleece Award, DeKalb County style.

Senator William H. Proxmire is perhaps best remembered for his opposition to wasteful government spending. In 1971 he led a successful fight against financing the supersonic transport plane. Governmental mismanagement was also the prime target of his books, “Report from Wasteland” (1970), “Uncle Sam: the Last of the Bigtime Spenders” (1972), and “The Fleecing of America” (1980).

In March 1975 he sent out the first of 159 monthly Golden Fleece Awards that called attention to financial mismanagement by government officials. In his last two Senate campaigns, Proxmire refused to take any campaign contributions and spent less than $200 out of his own pocket on each campaign.


  1. Yep, it’s all dirt, so not a fountain, altho’ there is a stubbed out pipe there for what will undoubtedly be a water valve.

    Last year, I queried Lynn F. on the number of city-owned vacant lots in DeKalb, but have lost that e-mail… the number was quite high! So, in order to not lose Dastardly Denny’s funds, they spent it on a project that 1) removes from the list a potential tax-generating property (when the economy improves, as it will — if it don’t, none of this matters!), & 2) puts an extra burden on the city for maintenance. The city has been “cutting back”, laying off folks, etc. and now builds something that requires city services to maintain. It’s bad enuf that the city is already maintaining “x” number of empty lots on our dime, now they add to it. Did they save enuf $$ from the Hastert funds to buy the plants for the planters? Oh, no? Well, we’ll just have to use city $$ for those, then, I guess. Not a small planter, btw, and a couple of forget-me-nots and a few tulips is not gonna fill them up.

    I, too, would love to see a map of the city-owned lots as Max suggested… The one that comes immediately to mind is the lot on Franklin & 5th… my girlfriend was gardening that lot back in the late 70’s, as the city thought that was a good idea, since they then wouldn’t have as much to mow. So, that lot has been sitting vacant for MANY years, generating 0 tax dollars for the city, and requiring regular mowing and sidewalk shoveling in the Winter. said sidewalk shoveling not always meeting the cities criteria for safe travel, but they don’t enforce that anyway. ‘Nuter subject for a later date!!

    • It’s roughly 160 just for the city. Some are easements, some airport, some commercial property that should not have anything on them but “For Sale” signs.

      Right, it’s also not a good idea to make more maintenance for a division that was cut almost 20 people last year.

      Max has me curious now as to what the school district is hanging onto.

      • Lynn & Max-Probably a year and a half to two years ago, I requested, during a school board meeting, that the board direct the administration to create a committee to review all District 428 property holdings with a view to ferreting out any truly excess real estate and/or other physical property. Nothing happened under the old board, but subsequent the elections, the new board is pursuing this. You may have read the recent DC article regarding board approval of costs for appraisals on buildings no longer in use, also to include the administration center. We will soon have these numbers for several buildings, although there is quite likely more work to be done to identify and appropriately determine disposition of District 428 property. This is something the new (combined) Citizen’s Financial Advisory Committee and Facility Advisory Committee is likely to work on.

        That’s the good news…that the board is interested and doing something. The potential bad news I worry about is the price we might get for some of the underutilized properties. I attended the auction of the former Farmer’s Factory Building in Lee a couple weeks ago and was appalled at the low selling price. Hopefully the much better location of 428 properties would help bring higher selling prices. We will see. Much work to do.

  2. I bought my pipe tobacco at Dirty Ralph’s for years, and got some really neat Christmas gifts there too, like a set of ceramic mushroom salt and pepper shakers. To maintain the ambiance of one of DeKalb’s most celebrated cultural icons, perhaps they could make the fountain/flower pot look like a trophy or an ash tray, and then lovingly place an artistically appropriate plain brown wrapper around the entire park. I really miss that place!

  3. A fountain/park?? Really?? We couldn’t come up with a more constructive use of what could have potentially been a tax revenue generator on a busy intersection with city owned adjacent parking? I don’t care where the money came from. Stupid spending is stupid spending.

    Raise your hand if you will be standing in line to sit with your Kindle on that park bench while train horn alert noises fight with traffic and exhaust as you occasionally look up at an abandoned gas station. How do you spell serenity?

    I agree that the building had to come down, but if we look at the laundry list of what we’ve removed and how it’s been handled this is another in a long line of inexplicable decisions. The Star building was removed (though I don’t know the details surrounding it) so we have a fountain and park there. Next to a railroad crossing. The building that burned between Munson’s and 3rd was apparently beyond repair, so we build a park/sitting area. And fenced it off so people didn’t try to cross the tracks. Nice box canyon for a mugging. We raised the National Bank building supposedly under the guise that IDOT was going to widen 23. Now we have, wait for it… A park, with trees. Who knows when IDOT will get around to doing anything with it. The former Discount Den building was raised because apparently people in Dekalb are too fat to walk around a city park. Now we have a gauntlet with park benches. Richoz /Sullivan was raised at the corner of First and Locust and we all know how that turned out. Now we have a… Park. Has anyone ever seen that on the MLS service? Let’s just continue to level everything and we’ll revert to noble savages trading at the farmers market. We can order everything else through Amazon.

    I freely admit I don’t know the specifics of each site but I sure see a pattern forming here dating back the bright idea of putting a post office on a major highway. Sure it’s easy to criticize but it shouldn’t be this easy. As I’ve said before, if anyone doesn’t think I have the right to you’re wrong. My tax bill is my bitch card.

    Mac, I would love it if you could publish the map of city owned properties as well as the school district’s holdings. I think that would be a real eye opener for a lot of voters.

  4. In the spirit of Ralph’s Dirty Bookstore and a tribute to the history of the city, they should have at least put up a nude statue or a private peep show booth. That would have at least generated some revenue. Real efficient planning would of had a nude statue, a peep show booth, and a small office conveniently set up as a sex offender registry.

    • Jeremy, you are confusing the two DeKalb Cultural Icons, Ralph’s and The Paperback Grotto. Ralph’s did not have peep shows. He did have some off color magazines, but balanced that with a fine selection of newspapers. If you wanted to buy a birthday card in Ukrainian, they had it in Ralphs. The help were generally friendly, the owners were fun to chat with, and they had a great variety of cigars, pipes, pipe tobacco, and other essentials. It was a truly unique place here, and had a very loyal clientele. The building was falling down, and could not be adequately repaired, but that lot is in a good location, and ought to be developed and put back on the tax rolls.

  5. I too was curious about this site (having just walked by it yesterday).

    So rather than speculate, attribute motivation, condemn or whatever i asked and learned the following:

    The work is being paid for using the $18k leftover from the 2005 Hastert grant to beautify East Lincoln Highway, not city funds. City had a choice of spending the money by the end of this month for the on-going beautification project of East Lincoln Highway as approved by council or send the money back to DC.

    Arguments can easily be made for either approach. I rather like putting in the small park in what had been an eyesore both first as a totally deteriorated and unsafe building and then as an empty lot.


      • Of course I do what?

        That’s just a quick flippancy (won’t mind it) if you then dealt with the substance.

        Mac, you claim you are an electronic reporter, yet did not do the simplest background check on this project. I was curious myself so jotted off a quick e-note and got back the answer.

        Certainly whether or not to return the money to Uncle Sam or use it locally is arguable.

        But at least before attacking something, try to present the facts of the matter rather than attributions. .

        1. A building with serious problems was purchased and torn down, eliminating blight
        (a) at the time of the decision to purchase and tear down the building, council voted on the issue and arguments could have been given on whether to maintain the building or not.

        2. Council decided to buy and tear down the building leaving an empty lot at a crucial corner.

        3. At that point the economic collapse occurs leaving the empty lot.

        Point 3 is the status quo, not point 1. Now decisions have to be made whether to leave the lot as is, or use already appropriated, allocated whatever federal money to beautify the lot. I can see pros and cons,. But what I can’t see is the persistent effort to go back several years and complain about what was done and is the status quo, rather than constructively operate in the present.

        • Herb, where did I make such a claim? When? Nevermind. You make stuff up to fit whatever point you’re trying to make.

          Yep. You got a quick answer. It’s an $18,000 flower pot. Paid for with leftover Hastert grant money. According to your sources.

          How much did the property acquisition cost? How about demolition? We all know that some kind of study had to be paid for, what cost? (Under 20k I bet). How much property tax did the property pay prior to it being added to the city’s empire building inventory? How much sales tax? Now throw in your $18,000 tag and finally we’re getting close to the inconvenient truth of how much money was really wasted.

          But wait, there’s more. As the term limited former chair of the econ dev committee explain how easy it is to convert the small park on an empty lot at a crucial corner back to a commercial property. Remember, so you don’t get caught in your own BS, you’ve explained that before… on the Skate Park.

          Nice try on the Freudian status quo. Won’t work but nice try.

  6. Was this a ReNew suggestion, or did the city manage to come up with it on their own? Did the same entity devise those monster concrete hanging baskets in front of the post office that would have matched the old post office, but certainly not this one?

    • Is it really going to be made out of gray bricks or will there be a facade on the outside? It does not match anything else downtown. At least it should have red bricks.

      That location would have made an idea spot for a business like a beauty shop, a law office, or an insurance office. It could have stayed as grass like where the bank was on the corner of 38 and 23 until the economy bounced back.

      • As Herb said in a previous comment, keeping the federal money is arguable.

        Well, they should not have taken it if this is the best they can do. Return it.

        Even I have to admit giving leftover TIF money to the Egyptian rates infinitely higher in smarts than this silly planter. And I’m not a big fan of handing “excess” tax money to non-public entities.

        Its so hard to believe that after the skating rink fiasco, there are still people in city government who just don’t get it. Sad.

        After this blunder, I wonder…will DeKalb be trusted to spend Federal money in the future?

  7. I have an Idea. there is an area of rundown buildings north of Crane between Russell and Annie Glidden, the area is prone to crime too, why dont we tear it down and build a really BIG fountain? We could build one big enough to fill part of it with dirt and part water -a self watering planter!. You know what else doesnt fit my vision for the city- that huge area on the west end of town where all the young folks hang out all the time and drink underage, they block traffic and are always loitering about -clear it out-we could convert the existing lagoons into- A Fountain! The east end of Lincoln Hwy is pretty run down too, why dont we tear everything east of 7th out and build a mega complex of fountains all down the row? beautify, its all on TIF.

  8. Senator William H. Proxmire was one of my heroes. His Golden Fleece awards whipped the media into a frenzy, if only for a day or two. He was a fiscal conservative and he is also known for his relentless anti-genocide speeches.

  9. So, since the season of fountain enjoyment is almost over, will this be a new ice skating rink in the off season? What a bunch of wasteful ignoramuses we have spending OUR money… Why don’t they take a lot that has no business potential and put a fountain there? Oh, wait, that would require planning.

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