2.25 The Lighthouse: The Stout Family Saga

The usual route to work takes me through The Lighthouse Shopping Centre and Condominium Complex. The subway connects to The Lighthouse and is located in a newly gentrified downtown neighbourhood. There is every store you can imagine, library, condo building, restaurant, movie theatre, bar, gym and food court. There is no need to go outside – everything is accessible through an interconnected series of tunnels. The Lighthouse Series showcases the various inhabitants, employees and idiosyncratic characters I have met by spending way too much time in this complex. At the turn of the century, the city grew, expanded away from the lake. People staked their claim on the land and sometimes killed for it, although many of these crimes went unpunished. No one knew at the time – and really, who would notice – that the lake was shrinking. A little at a time, the lake receded back until, many years and decades later, the waterfront property of those first settlements no longer contained nice lake views. Many considered their property worthless and house prices dropped. There were many depressed and despondent people in the city because they were giving up land that was handed down through generations. The younger ones didn’t want to farm; they wanted to move into the excitement of downtown.

1918, after the first big war. The world was changing. The world had changed. Germaine Stout (GS1) got a job with a blacksmith and his skin burned from the heat. The city and lake were the lowest part of the surrounding area and it expanded far north at an ever-increasing incline to where the lake originally kissed the coast.

At the end of every blistery shift with the blacksmith, GS1 watched the area now called The Hill. After a few months of observation, GS1 started making the four-hour walk up The Hill every night. There was not much happening up there but he did notice that many houses and farms were dark. No one was around. For months, GS1 walked four hours up The Hill, trekked around and walked the four hours back down. During his sauntering, GS1 came up with a plan. He saved every penny, nickel and dime. He stole food, he didn’t sleep. He befriended the local land seller and paid for his real estate education by buying whiskey shots and sponging whatever information he could. He used people. Once the land seller repeated his musings, he was redundant and GS1 never spoke to him again. He passed him on the street like a stranger.

GS1 purchased his first piece of The Hill two years later. He still worked for the blacksmith. He walked four hours up and four hours down. He worked the land, tamed it. GS1 soon surpassed his employer as a blacksmith. When people needed soldering, they bi-passed the teacher for the student. GS1 used collateral from his current land to buy the farm next to it. He renovated the dilapidated house included with the sale. At night you could hear hammering.

GS1 set up his own blacksmith shop on his land. The word spread and people came – walking the fours hours up The Hill. He bought more land. He hired assistants and he worked them hard. He excelled at competitiveness and put his former employer out of work. He became a beggar on the street. From up on The Hill he watched as more and more people arrived in the city everyday – much like he did. They would all have to go somewhere. He waited for the city to grow back out to him, to grow back to where it started. In a mere ten years, GS1 owned The Hill.

Germaine Stout II (GS2 – he bi-passed Junior) did not share his father’s physical attributes. He had more smarts and was sent away to be educated, paid for by the now wealthy and industrious GS1. Upon his return, GS2 brought with him the concept of land development. GS1 largely sublet his various properties to individual farmers (many of them previous owners who had returned hat in hand wanting to buy back the land) and his wealth accumulated through being an attentive landlord. GS1 was not a social being nor was he particularly friendly and he declined offers involving social engagements. But he was efficient and tended to the needs of his business in a respectful way.

It was GS1’s intent to sell his land and leave GS2 a large dowry to be used as investment to fund new enterprises. GS2 disagreed but praised the wisdom in his father. He disagreed with him on selling the land and GS2 arrived back from school just in time to stop the sale. It was actually one of those movie-like situations where GS2 raced home and ran up The Hill and grabbed the pen out of his father’s hand before he was able to affix his signature to the deed. The wisdom he saw was in buying the land in the first place. The city continued to grow and was bursting since the time when GS1 would sit on his newly purchased land and watch the boats come in. Over the course of three days and two nights, GS2 explained to GS1 how they could develop the land – build roads that connected to the lower city, construct houses and create city-like streets, attract businesses that could cater to this newly gentrified area. They were in effect creating the city’s first suburb. And so they did.

While business boomed, GS2 bought the local newspaper and placed himself as head editor. He always dreamed of becoming a newspaperman and he proved successful at it. GS2 had two sons: Germaine Stout III (GS3) and his younger brother Germaine Stout IV (GS4). The two brothers could not be any different: GS3 held neither the physical toughness of GS1 nor the intellectual capacity of GS2. He was dislikable in every respect and usurped the family businesses when GS1 fell ill. GS4 was the wonderkid – intelligent, charismatic, good looking. The tragedy of the Stout brothers was well documented but many details remained shrouded in secrecy. When they were young boys, their parents were killed in a car accident and placed into the custody of their grandparents. The vast fortune and various responsibilities of the family business were to be bestowed on their 18th birthday.

GS4’s banishment from the family was based in envy. It was also safe to say that GS3 might not have had the intellectual capacity of his brother, but he did possess a vast Machiavellian streak. During the 1960s, the neighbourhood surrounding The Hill fell into desperation and disrepair – crime fueled by dueling gangs created a reputation as unsafe and people moved away. The health of GS1 declined with his neighbourhood – they were connected. He was attacked late one night while leaving his office and beaten within an inch of his life. His wallet was untouched – they weren’t looking for money. GS1 never recovered and eventually and slowly died from complications related to the beating. GS4 was with GS1 at the end and saw fear in his grandfather’s eyes for the first time. GS3 discovered that everything was left to the favorite son, GS4. GS3 moved quickly and changed all documents into his name – it was easily disputable because they all had the same name. Upon return to his studies at a prominent American university, GS4 discovered his tuition fees revoked and his trust fund frozen. He returned to the city and worked for an electrician, who, coincidentally, was a distant relative of GS1’s blacksmith employer.

The Hill declined further. GS3 was not a good businessman. He built the shopping mall, named it The Lighthouse. He was unable to attract chain named businesses and settled for second-rate dollar stores and shoddy tenants. The Lighthouse was a failure and quickly fell into shambles that reflected the neighbourhood around it. The shopping mall was dirty, the design looked out of date a year after it was built and it become a hive of illegal activity and violence. GS3 didn’t care, he was considered a slum lord. He ignored safety and fire violations and never fixed anything. When GS4 was not working fixing a light switch or faulty wiring, he would walk around The Hill, much like his grandfather did all those years ago. He imagined something different.

One day, GS4 was fixing an electrical circuit for a prominent litigation lawyer. The lawyer recognized the name on the invoice and asked if he was related to the ‘slum lord’ of the north. GS4 had never spoken about what transpired but something came over him, perhaps because he felt something different about this lawyer, he felt that he had a sympathetic ear. GS4 told him the entire story and they made plans. For there was a change occurring in the city. Developers were running out of land downtown to build much in demand condominiums. The lawyer explained that The Hill would appeal to developers as it was accessible by subway and considered ‘new’ territory. Developers were always looking to find the new ‘hot spots’.

The lawyer hired an inspector to go into all of the buildings on The Hill and report violations. Papers were filed. Money exchanged hands. The last will and testament of GS1 were called into question and on further inspection they discovered the use of ‘white out’ on several of the documents. The lawyer and GS4 met with a new developer every day. They worked with city planners on how to overhaul The Hill and make it more appealing to chain stores, local businesses, young professionals and people raising families. GS4 contacted a revolutionary urban developer named Wolfe Hamburger. They clicked right away and every crazy notion of Hamburger’s was at least considered.

On re-examination, a judge awarded GS4 control of all businesses under the Stout name and charges of fraud were brought against GS3. As the condo buildings were built and as the neighbourhood turned from the most crime-ridden area of the city into the ‘hottest new place to live’ (Trendz Magazine, Vol. 34, August 1974), GS4 returned his family name to prestige. GS4 renovated The Lighthouse and it became the beating heart of The Hill. He erected a plaque on the front of the new high end shopping complex that dedicated the building to his grandfather and father. Through all this, GS4 could not condemn his brother. He gave him the job of general manager of The Lighthouse. However, this was a puppet position and GS3 was on a short leash. The Hill was once again restored and the place in the city to live.