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Massive fire at former Pheasant Run Resort conjures memories of iconic venue

‘The whole thing is just so sad’

Two units from the St. Charles Fire Department spent Sunday night putting out hot spots following the massive fire that broke out at the former Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles Saturday afternoon.

Like many people, Diana Martinez was saddened to see a massive fire destroy several buildings at the former Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, which closed its doors in March 2020.

“The whole thing is just so sad,” said Martinez, who was the director of entertainment and marketing at Pheasant Run Resort from October 1988 to October 2001. “It was such an iconic and magical place for so many years with so many memorable events that hundreds of people went to from all around the area. It’s heartbreaking.”

Martinez currently is the director of the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Office of the State Fire Marshal are working with the St. Charles police and fire departments to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed several buildings at the former Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles on May 21. The investigation is expected to last several weeks. The main lobby, Bourbon Street and the A, B and E wings of the hotel rooms at Pheasant Run were destroyed, according to a news release from the St. Charles Fire Department. Crews were able to save the 16-story tower on the property along with a dairy barn that had housed a restaurant. A building that had housed a 320-seat amphitheater also was saved.

Martinez went there May 22 to get a look for herself.

“I was glad to see the barn was still standing and the theater was still standing,” Martinez said.

The iconic resort, which first opened in February 1963, closed in March 2020 after a failed attempt to auction the resort. GSI Family Investments of Arizona purchased the Pheasant Run Resort golf course from the DuPage Airport Authority for about $11.3 million and proposes to build four industrial buildings encompassing more than 1 million square feet of space along with 13 acres of stormwater detention.

The 84.6-acre golf course is south of the former Pheasant Run Resort buildings, adjacent to DuPage Airport. McGrath Honda is redeveloping the former Pheasant Run Mega Center adjacent to the property.

Even though she sometimes had to put in long hours, Martinez has fond memories of working at Pheasant Run.

“One time we had the idea to turn the Mega Center into a winter wonderland and it was absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “The theater staff designed it and the culinary staff made all these delicious treats and we had holiday brunches in there. So it was fun. Whatever we could come up with and pull off, we did.”

A number of entertainers performed at the Mega Center, including Dana Carvey, Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle. A number of notable comics performed at Zanies Comedy Club, including Paula Poundstone, Gilbert Gottfried, Craig Ferguson and Norm MacDonald.

“There was one crazy time on New Year’s Eve where we ran out of alcohol and Jay Leno came out on stage at the Mega Center with a bottle of vodka and cups and said, ‘Everybody hang on. We’re getting more drinks.’'’

Edward McArdle opened Pheasant Run Resort in February 1963 on land that previously was a dairy farm owned by Col. Edward Baker. McArdle passed away in 2014 at the age of 88.

“He was a visionary,” Martinez said. “I loved Ed because as much of a businessman as he was, he had an amazing creative side. Bourbon Street was his idea. He wanted to create this place where couples could get away and feel like they went away for the weekend. And his vision for that indoor-outdoor pool? It lasted up until 2020. That pool was still a draw. He used to have pheasant races there in the early days. He did crazy things just to make you kind of forget and have a wonderful time.”

Rob Murphy has his own memories of Pheasant Run. He was executive director of the St. Charles Art and Music Festival, which ran for more than 10 years.

“Pheasant Run was a major supporter of this festival,” Murphy said. “The McArdles provided complimentary hotel rooms to our major guest artists. There was pretty much no limit as far as how many we could have. … They were just really good friends of the community and it was a shame that it closed. It was a really unique place.”