Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Quick, If Not Exactly Quixotic, Trip to the Quad Cities

Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa
Unlike some other travel recaps I've written, not just about London, Paris and New York, but less glamorous locales like Grand Rapids and Detroit, you can take this one more as merely an overview of what I did in the Quad Cities, rather than a recommendation for your next road trip.

It isn't that I had a terrible time or that any of my activities were unpleasant. I sufficiently enjoyed myself to justify the 3-hour drive each way and the cost of a couple nights at the Motel 6 in Moline.

My last post, in which I reviewed a Wilco concert that took place at the Adler Theatre in Davenport, clues you in to my impetus for heading west this particular week, and I'm glad I did.

But in assessing the tourist appeal of various attractions I visited--and the area as a whole--well, there's likely a good reason the Quad Cities isn't often cited as an exceptional vacation destination. Rather than finding anything particularly engaging or surprisingly intriguing, much of what I saw could be termed either mediocre or lackluster. Again, not just in comparison to Paris or New York or London, but as opposed to highlights of Grand Rapids, Detroit, Toledo, Indianapolis, Springfield, IL, Madison and most other semi-sizable places within a 5-hour drive of Chicago.

Maybe I missed the really good places, but taking my cues from the AAA Tourbook and some internet research, this is what I did between mid-day Monday and Wednesday morning:

Driving from the Chicago area west on I-88, I first stopped about 65 miles shy of Moline in Dixon, IL, long known as the hometown of President Ronald Reagan, but now semi-famous for having a comptroller who allegedly embezzled $53 million from the town over 22 years. I didn't run into Rita Crundwell or her 300+ horses, but I did the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home.

Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL
I'm not a ardent admirer of Ronnie, either as an actor or a president, but have enough curiosity about history and biography to take a look for the $5 fee for a home tour.

The tour guide was perfectly pleasant on a terribly hot day, and I learned a few interesting tidbits, but none of the furnishings in the house is original to the 1920-23 period when the Reagans lived there. And while the 8 minute video in the Visitors Center gave a nice overview of Reagan and Dixon, I can't say I learned all that much.

After a quick drive-by a few other Reagan sites and the ever-exciting downtown Dixon business district on a 100 degree afternoon, I carried on (wayward) toward the Quad Cities.

Finding my motel without much trouble or trepidation, I ventured out to a minor league baseball game between the Quad Cities River Bandits (an "A" affiliate of the Cardinals) the the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Modern Woodmen Park
Located in Davenport, next to the Mississippi River, Modern Woodman Park (named now for a local bank) dates back to 1931. Excepting the heat, it was an enjoyable and comfortable ballpark, and a day-of-game ticket cost just $5. The concessions were generally major league prices, but freshly-made smoothies made for something a bit different.

As you can see at left, down the left field line, there is a small corn patch--perhaps an homage to Field of Dreams--and the Centennial Bridge makes for a lovely vista.

Still, beyond the relative novelty--for me--of watching minor league baseball, I can't say that the stadium or the experience was anything all that phenomenal.

The River Bandits lost 9-2, but I must admit I left after the end of the 7th, when it was just 8-2.

My first stop on Tuesday morning--well, after McDonald's for breakfast--was something called the River Music Experience in downtown Davenport. I had gleaned from the website that it was primarily a place for music lessons and live performances, but some museum exhibits were also cited.

I was hoping to learn--or at least see--something pertaining to Bix Beiderbecke, a pioneering jazz musician and Davenport native. But besides an enlarged album cover of a posthumously-released record, there really wasn't anything about him at the RME.

There were a few decent things to look at, like a Wah-Wah petal purportedly used by Jimi Hendrix at a Davenport concert and a collection of concert photographs supplied by the Quad Cities Times, but I took in pretty much everything in under 20 minutes.

After stopping by the Adler Theatre to pick up a ticket for the Wilco show, I went to the Figge Art Museum, shown at top. Designed by a noted British architect named David Chipperfield, the Figge opened in its current form in 2005 but has roots dating back to 1878.

Looking at the Figge's Wikipedia page just now, it cites artworks by Whistler, Chase, Homer, Wyeth, Warhol, Rembrandt, Matisse, Renoir, Braque, de Chirico and Soutine. I swear I walked through every open gallery and saw every painting currently on display, and I saw nothing by any of these artists.

My visit would've been considerably more engaging if I had, for while there was enough to explore to fill 90 minutes, the only "brand name" artists on display were Picasso, Chagall, Beckman, Leger, Jawlensky, Miro, Motherwell, Stuart Davis (all with just one piece each, excepting Beckman's triptych) and Iowa native Grant Wood. Most of these were actually part of the University of Iowa Art Collection, which is on display at the Figge because of a flood at Iowa's gallery (in 2008, so the arrangement seems semi-permanent).

My favorite painting was the one at right by Leger. A display of Frank Lloyd Wright windows and furniture was also nice, and the glass sculptures of corn cobs (below) were fun.

The galleries were quite spacious and comfortable and the art was well-presented with informative wall text accompanying each piece.

For a metro area under 400,000, the Figge is a rather impressive art museum, a bit more so as a building than a collection. If you are in the Quad Cities, it is likely the attraction most worth visiting. But overall, even compared to other Midwestern art museums beyond Chicago--such as those in Milwaukee, Toledo, Indy, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Detroit--it falls a bit short of spectacular.

Nonetheless, the Figge was substantially more interesting to me than the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. This is a free museum that's part of the Rock Island Arsenal, a historic and still operating army weapons facility that occupies much of its own island. The entirety of the Arsenal and its surroundings was pretty impressive, including an old clock tower, a mansion that once served as commander's quarters, the 19th century home of Col. George Davenport, a memorial park of old tanks & howitzers, an old confederate cemetery and the Rock Island National Cemetery.

Going into the museum, I wasn't sure if it would be a showcase of the Arsenal's history, U.S. military history or weapons history. I'm still not entirely sure, as it was kind of an amalgamation of the three, but mostly it seemed to be the latter. The main, and most impressive (in sheer magnitude) display was a wall of guns that went on and on and on. To the right is just one section of it; the whole display is about 6 times as long and includes plenty of rifles, machine guns and more.

If you are fascinated by different makes and models of guns, you certainly should check out the Arsenal Museum. But I really can't say that I am, and while there was some information about the Arsenal itself and military battles, this was rather limited, making my overall enjoyment likewise.

I'm also not all that interested in farm equipment, so although I imagine the John Deere Pavilion in Moline would have blown my mind when I was 4, it wasn't worth more than a brief walk-through.

I actually had been here at least once before, and perhaps twice, but when I inquired at a Visitor's Center in Davenport about places to see, the John Deere Commons--which basically includes a couple hotels and a few restaurants, along with the Pavilion--was the top suggestion.

I did have a pretty good lunch--an Italian Beef sandwich made with shaved prime rib and served by a pretty waitress--at Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, next to the Pavilion and the John Deere Store.

But after all this, it was only about 3:00pm, and the Wilco show didn't start until 7:30.

I considered going to the Putnam Museum in Davenport, which is a natural history museum with an IMAX-type movie screen. Including an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, it seems like it could be a nice resource for families in the community, especially with just a $7 museum admission. But I didn't feel it was essential for me to squeeze in.

Likewise, I didn't feel I had to get to the Niabi Zoo, particularly in the sweltering heat, when the animals would presumably be sleeping in.

So after taking a a drive through downtown Rock Island and chuckling at the sculpture at right, I drove back to downtown Davenport and killed a half-hour reading magazines in the library.

After 5:00pm, I found a parking spot where I could leave my car for the evening's concert, and headed over to the Rhythm City Casino, one of three riverboat gambling choices in the Quad Cities.

While I enjoyed the chance to play blackjack at $5 minimum tables, the dealers were friendly and I sufficiently occupied an hour without much damage to my wallet, there also wasn't anything particularly special about this particular casino.

So then it was time to head to the Wilco show, which I've reviewed here. The Adler Theatre is a fully-restored Art Deco venue dating back to 1931, so it was a pretty cool to see a concert, even if not as ornate as I may have imagined. Though the concert was the highlight of my trip, it also wasn't quite as good as it might have been.

Which pretty much sums up my entire visit to the Quad Cities; enjoyable but far from extraordinary. If you have reason to be there, some of the above might occupy your time--I really don't know of any other places to suggest--but if you're in the Chicago area and looking for a nice road trip destination, there are several others I'd more highly recommend.

Nonetheless, it was a nice jaunt. And on my way home, along I-80 this time, I stopped in Princeton, IL at a Burger King for breakfast. As I pulled into the lot, I was a bit surprised to park next to the car below. Later, I watched as the elderly couple that owned the car--I don't suppose they had bought it new--drove it out of the lot and down the road. On the 4th of July.


ej2akind said...

springfield is a godforsaken hellhole.

Anonymous said...

thanks Seth, don't think I'll be heading here soon.