Damaged historic facade demolished Battle between owner, city delayed work

August 18, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Chunks of brick and mortar crashed to the sidewalk yesterday morning as a yellow backhoe rammed the front of a fire-damaged Main Street building in Annapolis and turned to dust the center of a controversy that began in a five-alarm blaze in December.

Several residents, business people and the merely curious came out at 7 a.m. to watch while contractors began demolishing the bottom portion of the city's first Jewish department store, a 99-year-old structure that city officials and preservationists fought to save in this colonial city.

But intense thunderstorms last week further degraded the facade and prompted the city to call for its immediate demolition last week because of safety concerns. Relieved residents and Main Street businesses -- many of which reported a loss in holiday sales because of the Dec. 9 fire and ensuing street closures -- said the edict was long overdue.

"It should have come down a long time ago," said Joe Burns, a Heritage Harbour resident who drove into town to see the building torn down. "I'm glad common sense is prevailing, but it took Mother Nature to do it though."

Judy Harris, a bookkeeper for Cafe Normandie restaurant across the street, agreed. "Everyone is so sick of this. It was just hideous," she said.

Yesterday's demolition comes after eight months of bickering about whether or not to preserve the building, but is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Building owner Ronald B. Hollander has vowed to sue the city for delaying his rebuilding.

Hollander originally applied for a demolition permit in December, arguing that the ruin was unstable. City officials and the Historic Preservation Commission denied the request and ordered him to stabilize the remains.

"To demolish something in the Historic District, you have to submit new building plans," said Minor Carter, president of the Ward One Residents Association and one of the few people on site yesterday who wasn't overjoyed about the facade's demise. "Mr. Hollander never did that. The law is very simple. We could have solved this several months ago.

"I hope Mr. Hollander will hire architects now instead of lawyers so we can get on with this," Carter said.

Once the city reluctantly ordered the building razed, John Bennett Co. contractors began work Thursday on the two-story facade draped in fluorescent orange mesh and braced by steel beams. Workers pushed bricks off the crumbling arches by hand as Hollander videotaped the scene for his pending lawsuit.

Yesterday, as morning traffic rumbled along Main Street, workers focused on taking down the bottom portion of the building, which was rebuilt in 1966. Hollander said it could take a few more days of work before the facade is completely down because of the steel beams used to stabilize the wall.

Another contractor might be hired, Hollander said, to dismantle the beams.

"The steel beams are making it much more difficult to take the wall down," Hollander said yesterday. "We could have just pushed the wall into the basement, but the steel beams are on too tight.

"This has been eight months of pure agony trying to deal with such a simple thing," Hollander said.

A steady stream of people congratulated Hollander. Some clapped him on the back, some shook his hand and some yelled their support.

"Thank God that wall's coming down," screamed the driver of a blue Honda as it whizzed by the backhoe. "Amen," a laughing Joe Burns screamed back.

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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