Palmyra fire aftermath: Buildings coming down

Posted at: 06/22/2013 11:06 AM | Updated at: 06/22/2013 11:07 AM
By: Tammy Whitacre/Messenger Post | WHEC.com

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By the month’s end, the three buildings destroyed by a fire on May 3 will be gone. But there is hope that a new structure will be built to replace the canal-era structures.

Mayor Chris Piccola said the owners of the three buildings have worked out an agreement for demolition of the buildings by June 30. But first, one of the buildings’ owners will take ownership of all three structures, Piccola said, in a real estate agreement that is expected to be finalized by week’s end.

There is considerable anticipation regarding which building owner is making the purchase. Mark Crane, owner of Mark’s Pizzeria, stated in a newsletter to customers following the devastating blaze that he intends to rebuild in downtown Palmyra. Crane did not return phone calls as of deadline Tuesday morning on whether he is the owner buying out the other two building owners.

A structural engineer from MRB Group, hired by the village, condemned the buildings after an inspection on May 7. At that time, Piccola was hopeful that for safety reasons the buildings would be demolished before the busy festival season started in the village, including Hill Cumorah, which begins July 12.

Demolition is expected to take a couple days to complete and should happen sometime during the final week of the month, Piccola said.

The buildings will be taken down in what is called a “hot demolition,” he explained. The structures will be knocked down in sections and cleared out. The debris will be placed in containers and trucked to a landfill facility. Throughout the process, water will be sprayed on the buildings to keep dust at a minimum, and the air quality will be monitored constantly for safety.

The three buildings sustained heavy fire, smoke and water damage. The fourth sustained some water damage as firefighters worked to ensure no fire was burning between the walls, and repairs can be made to that structure.

A grand jury earlier this month indicted Christina L. Nicklaw, 29, formerly of 236 E. Main St., on charges of fourth-degree arson, a class E felony, fourth-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, all of which are class A misdemeanors for the fire that Nicklaw allegedly set in her third-floor apartment in a failed attempt to commit suicide, according to District Attorney Rick Healy. Nicklaw allegedly set fire to a pile of sheets and blankets while her 4-year-old daughter was still in the apartment. The flames were doused, but fire investigators believe the smoldering blankets and sheets rekindled and the fire spread quickly, resulting in a massive blaze and fire department response on a warm and windy Friday in May.

Nicklaw was arraigned and sent to the Wayne County Jail where she awaits trial unless a plea agreement is reached.

The entire business district, which includes the four buildings damaged in the fire, is in the National Register of Historic Places.

Building history
The fire changed the face of the village, and the buildings’ demolition will change it again. Somewhat jumbled and confusing, their history dates back before the 1820s when a couple of the buildings were wooden structures used to store grain and corn on the second floor during the business boom brought on by the opening of the Erie Canal, said Bonnie Hays, executive director of Historic Palmyra. Their owners lived on the first floor. However, the weight of the grain and corn eventually collapsed to the first floor, and the buildings were rebuilt using brick.

The building that housed Goldie’s Goodies, which is now across the street by Main and Market streets, was once home to Briggs-Rexall Drugs, owned by D.W. Briggs, and operated well into the 1980s. Mr. W. Rushmore previously owned the Mark’s Pizzeria building, and Mr. F. Williams the other building. Williams eventually bought all three buildings, and they became known as the Williams block. He made vast improvements to the buildings, including new windows. Throughout the years, the structures have housed jewelry stores, shoe stores, a tannery, a furniture store and an undertaker, among other offerings. The Williams’ building was once home to a select school run by Williams’ wife in the 1850s. Later, in 1899, a library was located there. By then, the property had been passed on to philanthropist and businessman Pliny T. Sexton. The library stayed there until 1924 when it moved to the Park and Club Rooms, according Thomas Cook’s historical writings.

The Urban Renewal Agency in 1964 proposed the demolition of the north side of Main Street all the way to the Erie Canal for the construction of a walking mall. The buildings devastated by the May 3 fire were safe from Urban Renewal and remained in the plans created by Rochester Institute of Technology graduate students that depicted what they believed the face of Palmyra could look like. Their renderings included a park where the law offices of Converse & Morell stands.

Much of those urban renewal plans were fought by Historic Palmyra, formed to fight the destruction of the village’s many historic downtown buildings.

Historic Palmyra still has the drawings from the students, as well as a detailed history of the buildings for anyone interested in leaning more.
 

Story courtesy of the Messenger Post


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