Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were… Well, Mostly

Plop

Or flop? Most people are content with: “What’s new?” or “What’s different?” Oddly, I am interested in “What isn’t” or more correctly, what hasn’t been realized. Nothing bothers me more than being promised something, then not getting it. Maybe it goes back to some childhood memory of a disappointing Christmas, but don’t tell me I’m getting something and then back out of the deal. You know who you are and you promised.

As the drag actor Divine once screamed, “I wanted Cha-Cha heels!”

The following are my Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were: 5 big things on my wish list of wonderful that never came to pass. Personally, I feel cheated… and you should too.

1. THE CHICAGO SPIRE

Cancelled skyscrapers are nothing new in America or throughout the world. However, Chicago has a long and famous architectural history with projects that never got off the ground. Literally. Very few “A” list architect become famous without first building something notable in Chicago. This has been true ever since an impatient cow in need of milking kicked Mrs. O’Leary’s flame and fortune into the future. Cleared a lot of land for Frank Gehry.

The Chicago Spire was a dream project. In the end, that’s all it was, but for a brief moment it was a star. Conceived as one of the tallest buildings in America at 2,000 ft./150 floors, the structure had everything going for it. A famous architect: Santiago Calatrava. An incredible location just a few hundred feet from Chicago’s tourist-crazy Navy Pier and lakefront. Plus it was a design worthy of awe. Yes, perhaps, inspired. But best of all, it was in Chicago.

The project was approved by Chicago’s City Counsel in 2007 faster than any proposal in the city’s history. And do you know how many Aldermen have construction companies with their own projects in the works? Plenty. Being an Aldermen is a part time job, so they all have extra time to buy property, run hot dog stands, shake down unlicensed dog walkers. Important things. Still all this was put aside to push through the approval on this massive skyscraper. Back then, what Major Daley wanted, Mayor Daley got. It’s the City of the Big Shoulder Pads, remember?

When the bottom (and in the case, also the top) of the real estate market popped, it was over. Though the Spire’s developers were able to secure leases for the bottom floors of the structure with retail, multiplexes and multi-Starbucks, the condos above remained unsold. Except for the top penthouse (141st & 142nd floors) purchased by Ty Warner inventor (kind word) of the Beanie Baby, the building remained unsold. Warner’s 10,000 duplex was listed at $40 million but the final sales price was never disclosed. Given the building’s ultimate demise, I’m certain his deposit was returned: Seamore the Seal, Hong Kong Bear and Aldi, the Alchohol Alderman Antelope.

After the hotel concept was scrapped, all that was left were the unsold condos between the retail development on the bottom floors and Kingdom of Beanies above. Oh, and lawsuits in between. Lots and lots of lawsuits.

What remains today is a very large hole in the ground. When it rains there’s plenty of room for Seamore Seal and his friends to flounder in the glory of what wasn’t.

2. THE TITANIC HOTEL

There’s bad taste– and then there’s the Titanic Hotel, Las Vegas. This recreation of the fated luxury liner RMS TITANIC was to be a themed resort and hotel boasting some 1,200 rooms. Scale, as you know, is everything in Vegas– be it a cup sized for your quarters or your bosoms– this development was no different. Measuring approximately 400 feet in long it was to be constructed across from the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Though the entire project was nixed by City Counsel (imagine the sinking ship-themed simulator ride!) surprisingly the web site is still up at TitanicHotel.com. Check it out for some amazingly cheesy graphics and every ice reference to be found in your frozen thesaurus. I can’t imagine what the marketing people had in mind: “Gamble with your money, not your life?” This looks worse than a Dead Sea Carnival Cruise.

3. PEE-WEE LAND

This is a story that is perhaps more urban myth fiction than reality fact, but I’m telling it anyway.

At the height of Pee-Wee Herman’s fame and fortune, the boy in the ill-fitting suit had the world on it’s knees, a position Miss Yvonne was not always unfamiliar. In addition to the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse franchise and the phenomenal success of a young Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” this little P.W. was making huge bucks. At the zenith of his frenzy Herman had yearly merchandising sales in excess of $25 million, mostly from toys. Yet in the works were many things, including: a line of kids clothes at J.C. Penney, a breakfast cereal and yes, as mentioned in People Magazine in 1989, his own amusement park. “A warped version of Disneyland,” he predicted/lied(?) at the time.

Though people were throwing land at him like magic words (“bukkake”) the rumor mill whispered Pee-Wee was buying up property in Hollywood under assumed names– (Constance Amnesia, Placenta Flambe’, Chastity Stirrup, etc.) in and around where the Kodak Theatre now stands. I have not been able to locate the photo– I saw it only once and cannot verify its authenticity– but the property had been fenced off and a sign posted, “Coming Soon… Pee-Wee Land!”

Sadly, when Pee-Wee’s little slacks hit the floor, so did Pee-Wee Land. Captain Carl and Cowboy Curtis were replaced by two vice detectives in that now infamous L.A. porn theatre raid. (Yes, Pee-Wee came THIS close to relaunching a West Coast Village People!)

The rest, as they say, is his story. Not that anyone believed it. Did the media, the public and the world overreact? In hindsight, perhaps. He seems a fine man, a funny actor and he created a character that will live forever. Rather like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, except Pee-Wee’s white loafers tended to stick.

The same cannot be said for Pee-Wee Land. Was it just a dream on paper? Just a fib Pee-Wee told?  And could not the psychically disembodied Jambi have given Pee-Wee a heads up? Of course, no one ever wants bad news. Especially on a pink Princess telephone.

Now we can only imagine what wondrous rides would have been inspired by the original Playhouse and the fun we would have had.”Woulda, coulda, shoulda!” Right, Pee-Wee?

4. SUNSET BOULEVARD: THE MOVIE MUSICAL – But wait you say, “This is happening!” Um, perhaps/maybe. This “on again/off again” movie musicalization of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Hollywood opera has been stop-lighted so often, it’s enough to make you want to shoot anyone seeking a midnight swim.

Rumor reads that Glenn Close has snagged the role of the tragic Norma Desmond, but you know Meryl Streep can play anything, including that dead monkey part in cameo. Barbara Streisand’s name was floated about for a time, but then she wants to direct. And Cecil B. DeMille, sorry Lloyd Weber, would never hear of it.

There was an ancient story that Weber offered the part to Madonna, but she wasn’t about to play someone THAT old. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Or 10086 Sunset Boulevard, for that matter. That’s the downside of creating a Diva: you give and you give, yet still it’s hard to fill those big heels and bigger egos. This is not the first time Sir Andrew has created a monster; the movie version of Phantom made a big PLOP sound in both the river beneath the opera house and at a theatre near you.

My personal casting: Barbara Streisand as Norma Desmond (eccentric/crazy); Tatum Channing as Joe (stud puppet paradise); Patrick Stewart as Max (elegant and faded sexy).

5. HAND-CARVED COFFINS: THE FILM

Originally published in Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and later in “Music For Chameleons,” Truman Capote’s “Hand-Carved Coffins: A Non Fiction Account of an American Crime” is second only to “In Cold Blood” for the genius of the conceit, if not the writing. Returning to his “non fiction novel” format Capote places himself in this intriguing tale of a serial killer, but with a twist: before their cleverly devised deaths each victim receives an exquisitely made miniature hand carved coffin with their own tiny photo inside. Chills!

A detective investigating the case falls in love (of course) with a soon-to-be victim. He must solve the case before she too is killed in a mostly grizzly way. Capote himself meets with the killer, but he may have met his match. Can he prove the killer’s guilt or innocence? Could you be next? (Hint: Don’t accept any UPS deliveries!)

According to author Steven Bach’s “Final Cut,” the film rights to “Hand-Carved Coffins” were originally secured by United Artists for $250,000 just prior to their corporate sinking by the notorious Michael Cimino’s budget busting “Heaven’s Gate.” Hal Ashby had been slated to direct. Truman took the money and croaked in 1984, though not before United Artist hit the ground first. 20th Century/Fox would later pick the option where the would-be film has about floated for years– most recently to the estate of Dino De Laurentis.

“Hand-Carved Coffins” could very well be the greatest unresolved literary hoax of our time, but that’s just another odd feature to this true(?) crime puzzler. To this day it remains one of the most unusual films never made.

Have a suggestion for more “Wonders of the World That Never Were?” Let me know!

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016.

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