The Nicholaus Building has stood at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street in Schenectady for nearly 200 years, but late Friday night the historic structure was demolished after city officials deemed it was an immediate threat to public safety.
Traffic in the heart of downtown was snarled Friday afternoon and into the late evening after the Schenectady Police Department closed portions of Erie Boulevard and State Street in anticipation of the demolition.
Around 7 p.m. a 70-foot demolition excavator called “The Jolly Green Giant” was delivered to the intersection in front of the building, as utility crews worked to cut off service to the building. At 10 p.m., Chris Jackson of Jackson Demolition used the machine’s hydraulic basket grabber to take the first chunk out of the building.
Last April the owner of Thai Thai Bistro, a restaurant on the ground floor of the building, reported to city officials that the structure was “shaking and vibrating, causing cracking and separating of the walls, ceilings and floors,” according to a police press release Friday. The building was evacuated and has since been unoccupied.
An engineering firm brought in to monitor the building informed the city Friday that the structure “poses an immediate threat to public safety and could collapse,” leading city officials to act.
Jackson told The Daily Gazette that engineers had placed small red “survey markers” on the building’s facade that could be used to measure if the building had shifted at all.
“I imagine something shifted,” said Jackson, of why the city decided to demolish the building Friday. “The city has been monitoring the building since it had the initial disturbance in it and they have markers on there just in case something moves or shifts they’ll notice it. Something may have shifted and the engineering company told the city it was dangerous.”
“Once those things move,” Jackson added of the survey markers, “that’s the end of the story.”
Jackson said the building could have shifted for any number of reasons, including from recent rainfall.
“The amount of water in the ground may have caused things to settle,” he said.
Glass, wood and bricks rained down as Jackson’s machine took repeated bites out of the building. The crashing and breaking sounds of the demolition echoed off the buildings at the intersection of Erie Boulevard and State Street.
A large pile of debris gathered on State Street as Jackson went about his work Friday night. The Schenectady Fire Department sprayed the pile with water to help minimize the dust in the air. A Schenectady police officer aimed his cruiser’s spotlight at the building’s facade to provide more visibility.
Dozens of people gathered at the intersection throughout the night to watch the demolition.
By 11 p.m. a mountain of debris sloping up into the building’s interior was all that was left of the front facade. The “Nicholas Block” sign on top of the building was not saved, but Thai Thai Bistro’s sign that hung above Erie Boulevard was saved.
Thai Thai Bistro’s owner, Piyamas Demasi, said she’s dismayed to see the building destroyed.
“It’s sad, it’s a beautiful building,” she said. “Everything is in there, the kitchen, the liquor bottles.”
Demasi sad that after the building was evacuated last April, owner Viroj Chompupong did not allow her inside the premises to salvage any of the restaurant’s equipment. Chompupong did not return a message seeking comment Friday.
Demasi filed a notice of claim against the city last year over property damage and loss of business.
Jackson said the demolition will likely take one to two days, with cleanup taking the better part of a week. City officials were not available Friday to comment on the demolition. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return a message seeking comment Friday.
Schenectady Police Department Sgt. Matt Dearing said he doesn’t know how long the demolition will affect traffic around Erie Boulevard and State Street.
Schenectady police closed both southbound lanes of Erie Boulevard. In the press release, the department said only one northbound lane of Erie will be open to traffic. State Street will be closed in both directions from Ferry Street to Erie Boulevard. Police said westbound traffic on State Street will be diverted north on Erie. Sign boards will be placed in the area labeling detour routes.