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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

City order to vacate, demolish old Mason Jewelers building reaffirmed

Friday, February 10, 2012

Possibly as soon as sometime in the next 30 days, the wooden fencing on the south side of the square will disappear as the old Mason's Jewelers store at 18 W. Washington St. comes down upon the order of Greencastle Building Inspector David Varvel. An order to vacate and demolish the structure was upheld Thursday by the Unsafe Building Hearing Authority.
A downtown building that sprang from the ashes of a turn-of-the-century fire and then survived an October 1988 blaze that destroyed an adjacent storefront has apparently lost its battle to the elements.

An order to vacate and demolish the old Mason Jewelers building at 18 W. Washington St., issued last month by City Building Inspector David Varvel, was unanimously upheld Thursday afternoon at City Hall by the Unsafe Building Hearing Authority.

Owners Steve and Scott Mason were in full agreement with the ruling, which comes some 15 months after the second floor of their building collapsed into the first floor either late on Nov. 25, 2010 or early the next morning.

"It was Thanksgiving weekend," Steve Mason said, recalling the incident that essentially destroyed the building his family business had operated out of since the 1960s.

"It gave new meaning to 'Black Friday,'" he added.

The structure had obviously been weakened by the 1988 fire that destroyed the Mac's men's wear store, and the subsequent exposure of what had been an inside wall to the elements of Hoosier winters and summers likely took that their toll.

"One of the problems," City Engineer Garth Hughes noted, "is that the building was never properly weatherproofed after the fire. That was an interior wall."

Incredible as it may seem, Mason responded, the building was still "water tight."

Mason explained that he was not taking an adversarial position on the order but instead was in attendance "to support the city."

"It's been frustrating for 15 months to have your hands tied," Mason added, explaining that his family has been in litigation with the insurance company over the building situation, and that has meant the Masons can't have the building taken down themselves.

City Attorney Laurie Hardwick had both Fire Chief Bill Newgent and Building Inspector Varvel testify that the structure is unsafe. Both officials said it should be torn down.

Calling is "an unknown safety hazard," Chief Newgent said the building "could fall at any time."

The bulging east wall, he said, poses an imminent danger.

Varvel agreed.

"Even though the building has not come down yet, there is still the potential," he said, "and it's a danger to the public."

Newgent also pointed out creases in the roofing membrane, indicative of the building shifting, he said.

Varvel pointed to a "bowing deformity at or just below the second-floor level" of the east wall.

"Do you believe the building could be repaired?" Hardwick asked Varvel.

"No, not without costing a lot of money," he said, further addressing how impractical that would be to attempt.

Varvel advised that he sent the order to vacate and demolish to the estate of Dottie Mason. The Masons said they understood that the cost of taking down the building would come as a lien on that property.

City Engineer Hughes noted that the "city wants to move on this as quickly as possible."

Hardwick explained that the process would involve giving notice of demolition again with the city then soliciting bids on the project. Some additional paperwork may be necessary, she warned, because the building is an historic district.

Convention and Visitor Bureau officials Karla Lawless, Sharon Eiteljorge and Don Gedert spoke to the adverse effects the status of the Mason building has had on their adjacent site, including the Visitor Cove lot between the buildings that has been closed since the collapse.

"You guys want to clean up downtown?" Eiteljorge asked. "This is the place to start."

Since the Nov. 25-26, 2010 collapse, Mason Jewelers has been operating at 10 W. Washington St., a few doors to the east.

The late Harold Mason started his family-owned jewelry business in 1957 in the Durham Building along Walnut Street (across from the post office parking lot).

He moved the shop to the square in 1964, initially occupying what was the now-missing storefront that housed Mac's when the October 1988 fire erupted.

"Dad decided he had too much room," Steve Mason said, "and he and Mac (Bob McCormick) traded buildings. Can you imagine somebody trying to trade buildings today?"

Might even be like trying to tear one down ...

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