To some onlookers, the bulldozer simply cleared away bricks, wood and debris on Little Hollins Street in Southwest Baltimore's Hollins Market community.
But every scoop of trash took Glen Taylor and Nan Bosley further from their dreams.
"That's my retirement," said Taylor, 57, as city crews cleared what used to be Glen and Nan's Beer Garden and Cafe at Arlington Avenue and Little Hollins Street.
"All our dreams is gone," added Bosley, 49.
The historical building that housed the tavern at 1101-1103 Little Hollins St. collapsed May 20 as Bosley and Taylor were renovating it.
Bosley said she and Taylor were in the process of buying the building from Gilbert Sapperstein. "We owned the business with an option to buy the building once the paperwork was settled," she said.
Instead, city employees are investigating why the building, constructed in the 1840s and demolished for safety reasons last week, collapsed.
"We don't want to make any determination at this point, but our focus is on what level of work was done and when, with what permits to support that," said Zack Germroth, spokesman for the city Housing Authority. "I can't go into great detail, but the collapse of that building is of great concern to us. Certainly, it's going to be a very thorough investigation. We're looking at paper trails, and we're going to have to conduct some interviews."
Germroth wouldn't estimate how long the investigation could take.
JoAnne Whitely will be among those closely watching the probe. She formerly owned the building and ran Gypsy's Cafe and Tom Thumb's Tavern, a restaurant and bar that some credit with helping revive the community.
Whitely said she wrote city officials several times this year about what she perceived as questionable renovation there. But in an April 26 letter to Whitely, Shawn S. Karimian, director of construction and buildings inspection for the city housing department, said permits were in order.
Taylor said that when he and Bosley tried to renovate the building, they were hampered by city officials and members of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
Taylor said they wanted to brick in the windows and doors at 1103. "CHAP wouldn't let us do it. Because of that, that door broke. I think if that door hadn't [broken], it would never have fell."
Kathleen Kotarba, CHAP executive director, stopped short of blaming Bosley and Taylor for the collapse but said the organization never received permit requests from Bosley and Taylor.
"It's located in the Union Square historic district, which means that before any exterior work is done, you have to obtain approval from CHAP, and you must obtain Baltimore City permits," Kotarba said. "We have never received any applications to do any of that work. The current owners did do some exterior work without obtaining permits from CHAP or from the city, and that included some work in the windows and replacing some doors."
Bosley, Taylor and their son-in-law, Ronnie Shaefer, were in the building repairing drywall when it started to fall. They escaped injury, but one unidentified neighborhood resident who had just left with a cup of coffee reported being struck by falling bricks. He suffered a head wound that required stitches, a fire official said. He also injured a foot, Germroth said.
As they talked about their former business, the stress of the past few days showed on Taylor's and Bosley's faces. Often as she spoke, Bosley buried her head in her hands. At one point, she leaned on her close friend and employee, Margaret Karcher.
The building's collapse also affected former customers in the neighborhood of 19th century rowhouses surrounding Hollins Market. Once one of the city's thriving communities, it has seen many small businesses come and falter in recent years.
Rudy Rauch, 54, who used to own a bakery up the street from the tavern, said he often started his days with a cup of coffee from Glen and Nan's.
So did Dan Bush, 41, who sat on his porch steps watching workers clear debris.
"I think it's going to be a big loss for the neighborhood," Bush said. "Everybody met over there to drink coffee."
At 75 cents a cup, the coffee was hard to beat, Bush said.
Francis "Lumpy" Baroch, 37, owner of L&R Produce in nearby Hollins Market, agreed.
"Their coffee was real good," Baroch said. "People would be waiting to get in for coffee. I hope they rebuild."
Bosley and Taylor hope to.