Large chunks of terra cotta crumbled from the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall Monday, as the jaws of an excavator gnashed down on the building’s facade at 440 State St. downtown.
Nearby, a worker trained a stream of water on the partially demolished structure, ensuring the falling debris wouldn’t envelop the site in a dust cloud. Across State Street, onlookers paused to watch the historic building’s demise, some of them capturing the moment on digital cameras.
“You don’t get to see this every day,” said one man as he clicked a picture of the demolition.
Crews from Jackson Demolition started toppling the building on Friday and continued work through the weekend. By Monday afternoon, more than half of the building’s historic facade had been destroyed and the excavator was quickly pulling apart the remaining pieces.
Work on dismantling the building is slated to continue for the next month. The bulk of demolition should be completed within three weeks, even though the building seemed to be putting up some initial resistance.
“We’re finding it’s a strong little structure,” said Brian Murray, a superintendent with Bonacio Construction.
Tom Wilson, a principal with TW&A Construction Management, said the process to demolish a building has taken months of meetings and plenty of input from city agencies. He said the Odd Fellows Hall, located within close proximity to the Hampton Inn and wedged against another small building, must be demolished carefully.
“It’s right in the middle of downtown,” he said. “It presents challenges.”
When demolition is completed, only two subterranean walls will remain of the old hall. Both are shared foundation pieces that will be tied into new corporate headquarters for Transfinder.
Design plans for the 30,000-square-foot building include three stories, a mahogany-colored storefront similar to one that exists at the nearby Center City building and bronze-tinted windows. The design also includes a curved corner entrance and three balconies.
Tony Civitella, Transfinder’s founder and president, said the building will eventually house 125 workers and is needed for the school transportation management company’s continued growth. Last year, Transfinder created 15 new jobs and increased its revenue by 13.5 percent.
“The company has expanded and we continue to do better,” he said.
The project has spurred mixed reactions throughout the city. Civitella and officials from the county’s Metroplex Development Authority said the new headquarters was crucial to keeping Transfinder in the city, while some preservationists decried the demolition of a structurally sound historic building.
Transfinder purchased the former arts incubator from Proctors for $600,000 and announced plans to extensively renovate the building in July. The company indicated the nearly $6 million project relying on $210,000 in Metroplex funding would save the ornate terra-cotta facade and about 20 feet of the front of the building.
But in October, an estimator with Bonacio indicated that protecting the facade would be costly and would have no guarantee of success.
Civitella approached the city in late November with a plan calling for full demolition. Members of the Planning Commission considered the demolition for more than two hours, until narrowly approving it on the condition that they have oversight on the new design.
Civitella tweaked some of his original plans last month to address some of the city’s concerns. These included designing a first floor that more closely resembles a storefront and changes to some of the materials used in the facade.
Civitella said he’s received no complaints about the design, but declined to provide a rendering of the building to The Daily Gazette. He said he continues to work with city officials to ensure that the design meets all of their concerns.
“So many people have stopped by [Transfinder’s existing headquarters on Erie Boulevard] and looked at the design,” he said. “Not one single person has come up to me to complain.”