Construction crews have begun removing hazardous materials and tearing down some of the eight Highlandtown buildings that have to be razed to make way for the city's first new library in a generation.
The $8.5 million library, being built by P&J Contracting Company Inc., a local firm, is tentatively scheduled to open next year.
Removal of asbestos and other materials from the vacant buildings on the southeast corner of Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street is the final hurdle before demolition to clear ground for the Southeast Anchor Library.
Workers tore down three buildings on New Year's Day, leveling an old wig store, a one-time printing business and a green-and-white structure that used to house a Little Tavern hamburger shop. Still standing are a former beauty parlor, haberdashery, and optometrist's office, as well as the long-shuttered Grand Theater, where preservation efforts spurred by its lemon-and-lime-colored facade failed last year.
Only a bank branch at the southern corner of the block will remain when demolition is completed this month.
"I'm glad they're finally getting started," said Donna Bollack, a restaurant manager who used to flip burgers where workers continued clearing demolition debris yesterday. "It's nothing but crumbs now -- and memories," she said wistfully, taking a break in the front window of the relocated Little Tavern on Eastern Avenue.
Last year, the city Planning Commission's Design Advisory Panel asked for small changes in the look of the 30,000-square- foot library branch to ensure that it would fit seamlessly into the neighborhood of brick rowhouses and storefronts.
The design for the library includes tall windows, gardens, an atrium and brick-and-glass walls. Inside, plans call for a meeting space, computer laboratory, copy shop, cafe and children and teen areas.
"I'm really happy with it," said John Sondheim, planning manager for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Architects work by criticizing each other. I think on the whole, we profited from the exercise."