No one was injured when a historical downtown building partially collapsed Friday afternoon and city staff will be working through the weekend to ensure the area is safe enough to re-open the area to traffic.
The collapse of the multi-story brick structure at 620 S. Main St.was reported at about 1 p.m. Friday.
Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said the 600 block of Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic and pedestrians until further notice to protect the public.
Howell was working with Inspection and Zoning Department Chief Inspector Mitzi Ruth to assess the stability of the structure Friday and said by the end of the business day that they were likely not going to have to perform an emergency demolition of the rest of the structure that evening.
“We are going to be on site working throughout the weekend to make this area safe,” Howell said.
Howell said firefighters did a sweep of the building and found no one inside.
Dave Sadler with Nelson Architectural Group and a member of the Historic District Commission said that he put the city in touch with heavy demolition contractor Gary Lipsmeyer of Little Rock, who came to the site to assess the stability of the building.
“Gary met with Chief Howell and the staff from the inspection department and he told them that he believed the building is sound enough to hold off on the demolition,” Sadler said.
Sadler said that the condition of downtown buildings has been a major concern of his for some time.
“I’ve been up in a lot of these buildings and it’s the water that’s killing them,” Sadler said. “I think the rain and wind storm we had a couple of days ago had an impact on why this building fell today. If you don’t have roofs being maintained, the whole structure gets weak.”
Sadler said that the ballroom on the top floor at the back of the building collapsed down onto the floor below it. At the scene Friday, most of the collapsed area appeared to have fallen into the building, although there was some rubble visible in an alley below on the building’s south side.
“The rule of thumb in a collapse is that the debris field will be three times the height of the building,” Sadler said. “That is why it is so important to keep people away from that section of Main Street.”
According to police and fire officials at the scene, there was no explosion and no gas leak. The building is a three-story structure described by neighbors as the former Shriners building.
At an office building next door at 618 Main St., Kay Williams and another woman said they were preparing to go home for the evening when they heard a loud noise.
“It sounded like thunder, and we looked at each other and said, ‘there’s not a cloud in the sky,’ and we knew something was wrong,” Williams said. “We thought our air conditioning unit might have exploded or something at first. Our building was shaking, the power was flickering on and off, and we looked out and saw it smoking. We went out to investigate and discovered that the building was gone.”
Trey Ashcraft runs his photography business from 708 S. Main St., next door to the partially collapsed building. While he was not in his building when the neighboring building collapsed, he said he feels safe being in his building for the being time.
“I am not too concerned. I do not feel like I am in imminent danger,” Ashcraft said. “[The partial collapse next door] did not interrupt our day here.”
He said that some falling bricks may have grazed his building but did not cause damage.
“I have a real connection to these buildings through my photography,” he said. “Most people say ‘tear them down.’ …. I hate that [mentality], because I see these buildings as something different. We have a pretty cool history, so I hate to see them fall down so unceremoniously.”
The Jefferson County Assessor’s Office lists Medic Transport Inc. as the owner of the 620 S. Main Street building and indicates that the property was purchased in January 1998 for $25,000.
Pine Bluff historian Paul Perdue said that the building was constructed in 1912 as the Sahara Temple, which served as the headquarters of the Shriners in Pine Bluff for 16 years until the group built a new structure at Martin and Pine street in 1928.
Perdue said that the Shriners built the Main Street building for $23,000 and spent another $5,000 for heating and electrical wiring.
Perdue said that in 1929 the building was the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Boyer Dancing School and Sybil Dixon Music School.
“Virgil Howard and Mrs. C. D. Mosely taught music there as well,” Perdue said.
Perdue said that as of 1977 the Gay-Paree Beauty College occupied the bottom floor of the building.
401 S. Main Street
An 11,400-square-foot two-story building collapsed Feb. 20 at Fourth Avenue and Main Street. Building owner Joe Meador agreed to pay A1 Demolition Company $29,000 by Aug. 15 to clean up the rubble that has remained at the site since the night it collapsed.
Howell said in February that after the first section of the building collapsed, the city determined that the rest of it had to be brought down to ensure public safety.
Howell believed then that the advancing age of a number of downtown buildings, most of which are empty, could generate a growing safety risk in the downtown area.
“We regularly walk through to check on them,” he said. “We want to remain aware of any potential problems.”