LORAIN — Falling debris from one of Lorain’s oldest buildings forced city safety officials to close a portion of Broadway on Tuesday over fears the structure may collapse.
Lorain firefighters were called to The Eagles Building, 575 Broadway, at about 9 a.m. after receiving a call of debris falling from the building.
Police blocked off Broadway from Sixth to Seventh streets and an alley that runs along the south side of the building as fire officials inspected the building, which was built in 1918 to house Eagles Aerie 343.
“When we got here there were definitely pieces of the building that had fallen from the top to the sidewalk below,” Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Fenn said.
Using the ladder truck, fire officials inspected the top of the building and found significant damage and portions of the building were falling, Fenn said. They opted to shut down the road and alley to the south until a structural engineer can inspect the building.
Fenn speculated the damage may have been result of the recent roller coaster weather that has seen temperatures in the area go from far below freezing last week to a springlike high in the low 60s on Monday. Wild swings in temperature can cause concrete to expand and contract.
The white-faced building is known for its carved granite exterior and marble interior. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and is one of 121 buildings in Lorain County on the register.
According to the Lorain County Auditor’s website, the property is worth $261,870 and is owned by the Lorain Civic Center Committee Inc., which also owns and operates the Lorain Palace Theater. The Palace as well as an office of the Lorain County Title Bureau are in a building that stands just south of The Eagles Building. A Fifth Third Bank is to the north of the Eagles Building. The businesses remained open Tuesday.
Chris Patakay, the director of the Lorain Palace Theater, referred all questions about the Eagles building to his board of directors.
“I don’t have anything to do with that building,” he said.
Mark Janasko, who works for his family’s insurance business across the street from the Eagles, said he noticed debris in the alley to the south of the building Monday when he walked his dog. He said that was the first time he’d ever spotted any concrete debris around the structure, and he’s walked his dog along the same route regularly over the past several months.
“My dog was looking at all of it and I was like ‘Wow, where did all of this come from,’ ” Janasko said.
Janasko described the chunks as being the “size of bricks.”
The idea the building may not be structurally sound never entered Janasko’s mind, he said.
“I never thought it was more dangerous than any of the other buildings,” Janasko said.
Workers from Coon Restoration Services, which is doing exterior work as part of the renovation of the former Spitzer hotel, were called to the building. Two Coon employees went up on a lift to inspect the top of the building and removed concrete debris.
One of the workers, who declined to provide his name, said he couldn’t comment on the structural integrity of the building. He said an architect and structural engineer would have to make that determination.
Broadway will remain closed until further notice.
According to Fenn, the owners of the property and city officials were working in tandem to find a structural engineer to inspect the building. Based on the findings of that report, officials will determine whether or not it’s safe to reopen the closed portion of Broadway, Fenn said.
“Until then we are going to keep the possible collapse zones clear,” Fenn said.
The building originally was built as a one-floor structure. In the 1920s several floors were added. The building, which features 32-inch concrete walls, survived the devastating 1924 tornado, which decimated much of downtown Lorain.
It also has a colorful history. It housed a bar during Prohibition. Lorain police chose to ignore the establishment because a local judge also served as the establishment’s manager, according to George Siss, a senior research associate at the Lorain Historical Society.
Infamous bank robber John Dillinger, who often visited Lorain during the 1920s, allegedly shot a bullet into a wall in the basement of the building during one of his visits to town. The building houses a grand ballroom, huge bar and used to host boxing and wrestling matches. Several businesses, including a jewelry business and Army surplus store, also called it home for many years.
The Eagles eventually moved out of the building in 1984 after seeing its membership dwindle from a high of 3,300 in the 1930s to 150.
More recently, the building was home to the Boat House, a bar, but has been vacant for years.
A crumbling exterior isn’t the only problem the owners of the building face. According to the Lorain County Auditor’s website, Lorain Civic Center Inc., owes Lorain County nearly $26,000 in unpaid property taxes.