A cooperative effort by the First Christian Church Board of Trustees, the City of Paris and first responders made it possible for the Paris Honeybee Festival activities on the south side of the Paris square to continue as planned this weekend.
A portion of the west wall of the former Citizens National Bank collapsed Saturday morning, Sept. 21, forcing the closure of a downtown street and leaving the trustees of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) scurrying to ensure the public’s safety.
The collapsing of a portion of the wall facing the alley and Pearman’s Pharmacy was no surprise. The wall was bowing in the past few months, forcing the alley to be closed.
But Saturday morning, Sept. 21, a few of the 500-pound concrete panels on the west wall of the building slid down into the alley, leaving bricks, remnants of the concrete panels and other debris in the alley.
Dustin Melton of Pearman Pharmacy said he first reported the wall’s failure Saturday morning to authorities. The business later closed for the day for the safety of employees and customers.
“I got the first call (about the collapse) about 7:30 a.m.,” said Jim Bennett, who is chairman of the board of trustees of the church.
Court Street between Main and Central remained sealed by order of Paris officials including city code enforcement director Jamie Littleton, Paris Fire Chief Brian Gates and Paris Fire and Safety Commissioner Drew Griffin.
Bennett said the first concern by those on the scene was public safety. He noted local residents were walking down the alley to pick up the bricks and look at the damage.
“That whole wall could go anytime,” he said.
On Monday, several local carpenters began erecting a false wall around the building, running from the alley east to about where the golden eagle stands over the building’s door. The wall is bolted to the sidewalk and closes off the area in question, Bennett explained.
The false wall will limit parking on Court Street, Bennett said. That street will also be down to one lane once it is re-opened.
City officials inspected the building before giving Bennett the go-ahead to removed much of the valuable items, thanks to Doc Moody and his farm employees. “They stopped harvest to come in and get the items moved to a safe location,” Bennett noted.
Among the items retrieved were the volumes of the Paris Beacon-News from its creation in 1848 to when the Jenison family sold the paper in 2006. The volumes were stored in the trust vault in the basement of the building.
Pearman’s Pharmacy was open for business Monday and throughout the week — with a few changes. Customers are not be able to park on Court Street. Those who do wish to come to the store will be using the “Looking for Lincoln” building entrance, just west of the front door of the pharmacy.
“Better yet, if someone needs a new or refill of a prescription please use our free delivery service,” said Steve Benefiel.
The church purchased the building June 1 from Dimond Bros. Insurance, which had been using it as the corporate headquarters for the insurance company. Dimond Bros. Chief Executive Officer Don Bartos said the problems with the west wall became apparent a few months ago. “We brought in a structural engineer to look at,” Bartos said.
Bartos said preserving the building would be a costly undertaking. The church was interested in the building not just as a parking lot for the congregation, but to expand its ministry with a multi-purpose building.
The Dimond Bros. employees who worked in the building were never in danger, Bartos emphasized.
Benefiel emphasized that both the church and Bartos have, “been absolutely great to work with and have kept us in the loop from the time the problems with the west wall were discovered.”
“There were problems with that wall long before Dimond Bros. was in the building,” he said.
Bennett agreed, noting the bricks local residents were trying to pick up after the wall fell were most likely more than 100 years old.
The church now owns the property from the north-south alley between the former bank down to — but not including Savoia’s, Bennett said.
“It has always been our intention to tear down the buildings and we were trying to get our ducks in order,” he explained. There are some projects that must be completed before the building is razed Bennett said — including safe removal of asbestos floor tile in some areas of the building.
If the building should come down before the asbestos can be removed, the cost for demolition would skyrocket, Bennett said. “Everything would have to be removed to a special disposal area which is much more costly,” he said.
Bennett also emphasized the church has plans for the area.
“It won’t just be a big parking lot,” he said. Fundraising is already underway to construct a multi-purpose/gym for church events.
“We really don’t have anything like that right now for big events,” he said. The church has a growing and active youth ministry, including God’s Gang which meets every Wednesday during the school year. While there is a small kitchen in the church basement, an all-congregation dinner isn’t really feasible at the church because not all members can be seated in the basement area. “This would provide us options,” he said.
Although further research is required to be sure, Benefiel said 18 feet from the west wall east was added by the Citizens National Bank around 1960. That 18 feet was at one time the Morris Appliance Store owned by Dow Morris Sr., the father of the late Mary Ann Morris Sprouls and Dow Morris Jr. That additional space was used for an expanding farm and trust department for the bank.
The stone on the front of the bank building was added at that time while the concrete panels were placed on the west wall next to the alley. Bennett said as far as he could tell, no further stabilization of the wall — other than the 500-pound individual panels — was completed.
The wall area which fell Saturday morning appears to contain at least four different brick layers, Benefiel said. He also noted around the window, which was sealed and is now because of the collapse, “the original plaster of the store can be seen.”
A 60-foot boom is needed to bring down the building and church leaders were seeking one before Saturday’s collapse, Bennett said.
Bennett emphasized the public needs to stay away from the alley and the building. “It’s a dangerous place,” he said. “It’s a death trap. If it lets go, that whole wall is going to come down.”