Video shot by Scott Manny of the St. Augustine Entertainer
Story by RHONDA PARKER
Taking down one of the oldest buildings in the historic downtown did not go easily for a demolition crew that stood puzzled after a couple of hours of plucking at its sturdy coquina walls late Thursday night. Local business owners, city officials and a solemn neighborhood crowd watched as the Spanish second period building, gave quarter shortly before midnight and touched a single hipped-roof corner to the ground in a gesture that seemed almost genteel, like a final bow. The building at the corner of Spanish Street and Hypolita first showed foundation cracks earlier in the day after a construction crew had dug a deep trench along its foundation wall on Hypolita.Â
Owner and local contractor Len Weeks said an engineer and preservation expert had been called in to look at the building before the decision was made to take the building down.Â
Vice-Mayor Nancy Sikes-Klein was also on scene.Â â€œThis is a great loss to our city and its citizens,” Sikes-Klein said. “This building was an historic treasure, and right now my heart is breaking to see this.â€Â
With the backlit red dust still swirling â€“ the crew and Weeks aided the former tenants of an apartment on the second floor in retrieving some clothing and a few belongings. Weeks could also be seen comforting the owner of the Bath Junkie shop, which had occupied the downstairs of the building for the past 12 years. Weeks said he had been preparing to pour concrete around the foundation when the initial collapse on the northwest corner of the building occurred.
â€œI donâ€™t know why this happened and I am deeply sorry about it,” he said.Â
Mayor Joe Boles could also be seen milling through the crowd and offering condolences to some residents who were still visibly upset.
â€œThis is a sad moment and a great loss for everyone. From what we heard from the experts, there was no alternative and it had to come down for safety of people and the surrounding buildings,” Mayor Joe Boles said.
Some local residents speculated that the building, built around 1802-1807, may have been undermined by the ongoing renovation/construction on Hypolita.Â