South Market Street was a hub of activity this week with the commencement of a long-awaited and noteworthy demolition project.
Tuesday marked the first day that crews from Burtonsville-based All Star Waste & Recycling began tearing down three blighted, historic brick facades from 58-70 South Market St. By late morning, the middle facade was gone. Over the next several hours, crews scaffolded the right facade to save the bricks and knocked down the left portion. By the end of the week, only about half of the right facade was still standing.
The entire demolition project, which also includes tearing down the blighted three-story building at 56 S. Market St., is expected to take from 30 to 45 days to complete.
I was there to watch — and record on my phone — demolition of the right facade Tuesday along with a small crowd of onlookers. Throughout the roughly two hours I spent standing in front of the United Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 3 across the street, I listened to some of the comments from people who were watching and from those who walked by while it was going on.
One man declared the work “a miracle” as he stopped by to check it out. Another started applauding as he approached the crowd. Another woman looked incredulously at the missing middle facade and commented on its absence, saying she walks by the area every day.
Many drivers passing by the area slowed down to see what was going on, with some practically stopping to take pictures with their cellphones.
One person who said he will definitely notice the absence of the brick facades, which have been standing for 20 years or more, is Jerry Dorsey, deputy chief of the adjacent fire station at 79 S. Market St. Dorsey hung out for a while Tuesday with the crowd watching the demolition, who included city staff members, residents and even some elected officials.
Dorsey, a member of the fire station since 1987, said he remembers when the facades lost the rear part of their buildings, and has gotten used to seeing them every day.
“It’s definitely going to be different looking out the front of our fire station and not seeing that facade there anymore,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a change of scenery.”
While Dorsey said he is not sad to see the facades and the building come down, he recognizes the historic significance of them.
“I know it’s got some value,” he said. “They’re taking half of it down by hand to reuse that brick. That has some sentimental value I’m sure.”
He added that he believes many people within the city and tourists who have driven by the area over the years likely did not know the brick structures were only facades with nothing behind them. Thus he anticipates the demolition may come as a surprise to some people.
At Capa Imports next door to the brick building, owner Atakan Yilmaz had a much more enthusiastic reaction to the demolition.
“It was my lifetime dream coming true,” Yilmaz said of the facades coming down. “I didn’t think I was going to see this day.”
Yilmaz said after city officials announced the demolition order in late January that he had been waiting for the news for a long time and looks forward to the property’s redevelopment.
Representatives with property owner Suitland Road LLC have not revealed solid plans for the property yet. However, they have tossed around the idea of constructing a multi-story building with retail business on the bottom and residences on top, like many buildings downtown. Yilmaz has said he would be happy with that type of development going in next door to his store.
Other neighboring business owners also said they would be pleased with the redevelopment.
Bobby Rice, owner of South Market Sandwich Co. down the street at 105 S. Market, was one of them.
“It should fix it up down here,” he said of the facade removal and prospect of new construction.
Another aspect of the demolition I noticed while watching Tuesday was the interruption to drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Construction crews closed the road in front of the structures periodically as the work went on Tuesday, at one point blocking it to traffic completely for a very short time as the left facade came down.
City traffic officials have said the work will continue to affect traffic flow at times over the course of the demolition.
Dorsey said Tuesday that despite the work going on across the street and the periodic road closures, the fire station fortunately did not have any issues with trucks driving in and out of the garage.
The sidewalk is also closed in front of the structures and blocked off with temporary fences, causing pedestrians to walk in the road around them.
Delivery workers from South Market Sandwich Co. riding bicycles during the lunch rush were also forced to ride around the work. Rice said it really did not pose a problem or affect deliveries, though.
Yilmaz also said Tuesday he does not anticipate his business suffering because of the sidewalk closure. In fact, he said it actually had the opposite effect that first day. People who had been watching the work from across the street came into the store and began browsing, he said, which they may not have done if the demolition had not drawn them there.