Tribune building partly demolished
Fairfield lost a piece of history Tuesday when part of the Tribune Printing Company building was demolished after it was found to be in danger of collapse.
The Jefferson County Law Center received a call about the Tribune Printing Company’s potential collapse at 3:05 p.m., and dispatched officers to the building at 101 W. Briggs Ave. Upon arrival, the Fairfield Fire Department noted the outside wall on the north side of the building was leaning heavily toward the street.
Briggs Avenue from Second Street to Main Street was immediately closed to all vehicle traffic due to concerns of the building collapsing further into the street. The Tribune Printing Company building was evacuated, as were neighboring Ila’s Restaurant and Revelations Café, as well as all apartments above those businesses due to reports of a gas leak coming from the printing company building.
Alliant Energy was notified of the gas leak and shut off gas to all evacuated buildings. The affected businesses were able to resume normal operations by 6 p.m.
A local excavating company, Cross Iron Excavating, tore down the compromised portion of the roof and north wall to prevent any further collapse. The company first used a track hoe to tear down the wall, and then the city brought in an endloader to push the debris off the street. Demolition ceased just after 5 p.m. and the 16 Fairfield firefighters on the scene returned to the station.
Rich Vogt, owner of Cross Iron Excavating, said he received a call from law enforcement telling him to bring a track hoe to the scene as quickly as possible. He drove a track hoe there, but realized once he arrived it was too small to knock out the wall and that he might get hurt from the falling debris. He went back to his shop to retrieve a much larger track hoe, which he used to demolish the wall.
He said he commonly uses track hoes to demolish buildings, so the experience Tuesday was nothing new for him. He was not worried about the gas from the building because he had been assured it was turned off.
According to a press release from the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, the rest of the building will be torn down as soon as the owner’s insurance company can send adjustors to survey the damage.
Ross Walker owns the building and was inside it with a group of other people for two hours that afternoon. They were there cleaning in preparation to sell the building. Walker said that, in all the years he has owned the building, there were never any signs it was structurally unsound until that afternoon, when he saw the suspended ceiling had fallen down in one part of the building, and noticed cracks in the walls he had never seen before. Walker said he has no idea what could have caused the north wall to lean out toward the street.
“We had no inkling there were problems with the building until yesterday afternoon,” Walker said.
Walker also noticed one of the east-facing glass doors was difficult to open because the frame had moved. He called 911 to report the building was not safe, and the Fairfield Fire Department responded to find a gas leak coming from the building.
Walker has not been able to enter the building since Tuesday afternoon. He said there are several printing presses in the building as well as some flammable materials that were used in presses decades ago.
Seeing the building torn down pulled at Walker’s heartstrings because of what the business has meant to him and his family.
“The business has been in the Walker family for 99 years,” he said.
The Tribune Printing Company has been in business for 167 years, making it the oldest continuously run business in Iowa.
Fairfield Police Capt. Dave Thomas said today he expects the streets around the printing company building to be closed for several days and that motorists should plan accordingly.
Before the north wall was brought down, the firefighters rolled three antique cars belonging to Walker out of the garage on the west end. One of the cars started and was driven away, while the other two were loaded on a flatbed and hauled off.
The Tribune Printing Company building turned 100 years old this year. The Tribune Printing Company called the building home from 1980 until it closed for business in June. In the 1920s, the building housed the Fairfield Motor Company, the Brown Motor Company and Easton Motor Sales. In the 1930s, Reliable Department Store and Leach Hatcheries used the space, and Benteco Supermarket moved in during the 1940s.
The 1950s saw Brainard Pontiac and Benner Food Store open up shop there, followed by Wulff’s Furniture in the 1960s. Gibson’s Discount Center department store and the Big ‘o’ Factory Outlet used the building in the 1970s before the Tribune Printing Company moved in.
Before the 1914 building, the building that stood at that location was Fairfield’s Grand Opera House, built in 1890 but destroyed by an electrical fire in 1909.
Lisa Carr and Sharon Stinogel own Ila’s Restaurant and were at the scene to witness the building’s partial demolition. Carr said the business was not open Tuesday so there were no customers or staff inside. She learned of the potential collapse from a volunteer firefighter at her other job, and went to the scene as soon as she could. She said she feared the Tribune building’s collapse would damage her building since they share a common wall.
Carr said she worried the excavator would demolish the entire building without giving her a chance to shore up the common wall.
“I thought they were going to tear the whole thing down right then,” she said. “They explained to me they were just trying to secure the building so it wouldn’t fall on anybody.”
Before the demolition, Stinogel let firefighters into Ila’s to check for gas and to open the doors to let the gas dissipate. After the demolition, Carr and Stinogel could still smell gas, but Carr said it went away fairly quickly. Their electricity was turned back on shortly after 5 p.m. and their gas was turned on at about 6:30 p.m.