ORONO, Maine — A building that stood for around 180 years at one of the most conspicuous spots in town was felled in less than four hours Tuesday, nine weeks after it burned in a fire.
The demolition of the Katahdin Building, which in its lifetime had served as a tavern, the town’s first public library, a bank, an office building and most recently an apartment building, drew several hundred onlookers, some of whom were sad to see the old building tumble to the ground.
Most of the building was razed by 1 p.m.
The multistory building was impossible to miss downtown, sitting on a plot of land sandwiched in the triangle between Main Street and Bennoch Road.
The June 9 fire, which was deemed electrical in nature, gutted the interior of the building and a later addition, which at the time contained 18 apartment units with a total of 26 tenants.
Jennifer Dudley of Winterport, who had owned the building with her husband, Robert, since 2001 after her uncle owned it for 25 years, said the couple is waiting to sort things out with their insurance company to determine their next step for the land.
“From the night of the fire on, it was just waiting and waiting for the demolition,” she said while an excavator continued to tear out the interior of the building. “But it will be a relief when it comes down, because it is a safety hazard.”
Gary Proulx, the project manager for contractor Keith Trembley Builders of Milford, which coordinated the demolition, said there was a chance the fragile building could crumble onto busy Main Street, which is part of Route 2. The building was made with a thin skin of brick over a wood structure.
After the fire the town blocked off the right lane of the street next to the building.
“The police had been keeping an eye on it,” Orono Fire Chief Buddy Webb said. “Schools are opening pretty soon, and we needed to get things cleaned up to get traffic through.”
The long wait for the demolition was necessary because of work that had to be done to the property, Proulx said. Some asbestos flooring and siding was removed, along with hazards such as the oil tanks and old mercury thermostats in the apartment units. Each removal required permitting and disposal procedures.
“Because of the ‘unsafety’ of the structure they hustled everything through for us,” Proulx said.
Onlookers stood Tuesday on the Main Street sidewalk and area behind the building. A smoky smell occasionally wafted through the air and workers sprayed the debris with water to keep down the dust.
Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. cut down wires to the building before the facade facing Main Street came down.
Lifelong Orono resident George Gonyar, 82, said he was sorry to see the building fall, but understands the ebb and flow of community landscapes.
“I’d say this is a sad day because the building may be the oldest building in town,” Gonyar said. “On the other hand, time marches on, things change. I only hope that something develops that can be profitable for the owner. It doesn’t matter to me what it is.”
Jennifer Dudley said most of the building’s tenants, many of whom were college-age, have found other housing arrangements. All of the tenants had a chance to retrieve some personal belongings, she added, including family jewelry and a guitar.
“It was a miracle what came out,” said Dudley, who worked with Trembley Builders subdivision Paul Davis Restoration to secure the building.
The Dudleys were hoping to salvage some granite from the structure. Some onlookers took bricks as mementos.