After decades of abandonment, two Depression-era apartment complexes in Toledo's Old West End are being torn down.
"This is demolition by neglect," Toledo City Councilman Paula Hicks-Hudson said Tuesday as crews from Paschal Bihn & Sons Excavating in Oregon began razing the three-story Collingwood Arms and Collingwood Manor apartments at 2127 and 2131 Collingwood Blvd. near Bancroft Street.
A heavy equipment operator, using a crawler with clamshell, poked, pulled, and shredded the walls, floors, and roofs of the rectangular U-shaped buildings, sending chunks of brick, concrete, and steel cascading to the ground in clouds of dust.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson held a news conference on the lawn of the apartments, flanked by City Councilman Steven Steel, Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, other city and county officials, and a handful of Old West End residents.
Nature had already started the demolition process before the razing officially began. Pieces of concrete and brick had fallen off the facade and the heat-thaw cycle made the early 1930s buildings unstable, city officials said.
The two 44-unit apartment buildings were vacant at least 15 years, and the owners owed $250,000 in back taxes, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
Bill Frisk, 62, who has lived his entire life in the neighborhood known for its large Victorian and Edwardian homes, said a murder took place in the apartments in the 1960s. "It was half empty at the time and [the apartments] never recovered," he said.
Toni Moore, 70, who has lived in the Old West End for 40 years, said neighbors had been calling the city for 30 years to complain about the apartments, which, unlike many buildings in the neighborhood, are not listed on any historic registers.
"We are sad to lose these buildings because they were incredible, beautiful buildings," Ms. Moore said, adding that twin buildings had spacious apartments, marble staircases, and wrought-iron railings.
Tammy Michalak, 42, an 18-year resident of the Old West End, said, "It's a sad day from my perspective. I think it could have been prevented if the city had been more willing to work with neighbors and residents and the community. … If we allow these properties to become neglected and just fall apart, no one's going to want to come downtown. No one's going to want to invest in the neighborhood. This neighborhood is such a jewel," she said.
Both Ms. Hicks-Hudson and Mr. Kapszukiewicz said government officials had lacked the tools to prevent such blight until 2010, when the state legislature allowed the creation of the Lucas County Land Bank.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who is chairman of the land bank's board, said it is paying $73,000 and the city is paying $50,000 to raze the two apartment buildings.
"Years ago," he said, "this would have been still plagued by murky ownership and liens and back taxes, and it would have sat here -- indeed, as it did -- for years and years, winding through a very bureaucratic and byzantine process, perhaps just ending at the courthouse for a sheriff's sale, where it could have been purchased by a low bidder, only to continue this spiral of disinvestment that would have continued for a long time."
The land bank, funded by a fee tacked onto delinquent taxes, generated $1.6 million last year and has the legal power to cut through red tape and seize the property, which it now owns, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
Mercy College of Ohio, on Madison Avenue, is considering building a student dormitory on the site, according to Jamie Harter, the college's vice president of administrative services.
Mercy has 1,100 students, mostly commuters, at the Toledo campus and houses 55 students at Executive Towers, he said.
But while building a dorm is under consideration, no decision has been made.
Paul Ringlein, project manager for the city of Toledo's division of code enforcement, said most of the materials from the demolition will be crushed on site and recycled as road fill.
The building's basements will be removed and filled with soil, and the property will be turned into greenspace awaiting new construction, he said.
Paschal and Bihn has offered to donate the bricks to Old West End residents for home repairs or landscaping.
The razing should be finished by Friday, with removal of materials to follow, Mr. Ringlein said.
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