One thing for sure about the Masonic Temple Building in downtown Dunkirk - it's coming down a lot faster than it went up.
The Central Avenue landmark was heavily damaged in a Feb. 24 fire that led to the demolition of the One Liberty Square Building to its south and a wait-and-see approach to the re-use of the Graf Building, with which the Temple shares a common wall on its north side.
Workers from the Titan Wrecking & Environmental, LLC of Buffalo began the heavy-duty demolition of the Temple on Monday and by Tuesday afternoon there was little evidence left that a unique structure had existed. As crews wound down Tuesday, only the elevator shaft was still standing, that to be taken down today after it was determined a change in direction to that knockdown was necessary.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Only the elevator shaft remains as well as one pillar and a first-floor facade at the Masonic Temple building.
As work wound down Tuesday, Titan crews began moving a pile of bricks toward the northeast side of the demolition site. A concern that the metal beams making up the elevator shaft could twist with the weight of the elevator car at the top of the shaft caused the delay.
"They're building a roadway. Once they build the new roadway they'll be back tomorrow to attack it from the northeast corner," City Building Inspector Alan Zurawski explained. "The car is on the fourth floor, that's why they're taking the extra precautions."
Zurawski was asked if there were any safety concerns about leaving the elevator shaft up in a freestanding fashion.
View videos of the Masonic Temple building and One Temple Square demolition from the past months under "View area videos" at observertoday.com
"There shouldn't be," he replied. "There's four columns holding it up plus the shaft in the center still holding it up."
Besides the elevator shaft, only the salvageable material and debris remain to be moved, along with cleaning and refilling the building's basement area.
As for the Graf Building, built in 1905, work remains to remove part of the remaining connecting wall and bring it to a safe level as the Temple was a taller structure. After that, the condition of the outside of the wall that connected the Temple and the Graf Building will be addressed.
The Temple structure was completed in 1909, constructed on land purchased from Elizabeth Newton. Designed by architect J. Mills Platt of Rochester and constructed by the Meister Contracting Co., the cornerstone was laid June 27, 1908. Dwarfing the wood-frame structures that went up in the city in the 1850s, the Temple enjoyed a grand opening.
According to City Historian Robert Harris, the Temple was formally opened in 1909 with a grand ball attended by more than 1,400 people, with music provided by the 74th Regimental Orchestra of Buffalo. Joining the Masonic Lodge as first tenants of the building was the Safe Store, owned by Adolph Weinberg and having a staff of 75.
Over the years the building housed organizations from stores to churches to medical offices and fitness-related businesses. That all changed with the February fire that marked the beginning of the end for the familiar structure.
In early March fire investigators determined the fire was of accidental nature with an electrical problem the cause. According to the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office, an electrical problem in the service disconnect located in the northwest corner of the building's basement sparked the fire. The city served a raze or repair order to the Temple's owners in the first week of March.
The emergency demolition work to make the site safe was done by Empire Building Diagnostics Inc. before control of the site reverted back to the owner, Connecticut resident Robert Lesser. The full market value of the building was estimated at $374,500.
Zurawski said the crews will likely begin at their usual 8 a.m. time today to continue their work. The 300 block of Central Avenue will remain closed to vehicular traffic until safety is no longer a concern.
What will come next to the soon-to-be-vacant site is unknown at this time; what is lost is a city landmark.
Long-gone is that era's trolley system, soon to be joined in the memory banks of area residents by thoughts of the Masonic Temple. Despite calls from some area residents to save the building's facade, economic realities were apparently too much to overcome.
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