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‘Starting to look better’: Old Walter Piano building demolition proceeds

The demolition of the old Walter Piano building in Elkhart is proceeding as scheduled and neighbors are glad to see it go.
Posted on March 15, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 15, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.

ELKHART — Old bricks lie beside the crumbling Walter Piano Building here.

The elevator shaft looms above it all, still to be demolished, and a pair of excavators gather up rubble for recycling and disposal.

Friday, March 15, was another day in the ongoing demolition of the massive old industrial building, originally built in 1889 and home over the years to an auto manufacturing facility, a discount store and more. One day closer to complete removal of the eyesore, located at the northwest corner of Beardsley Avenue and Michigan Street in a neighborhood with a mix of commercial, residential and industrial development.

“It was ugly. It was falling apart, little by little,” said Carmelo Moncada, a mechanic at Stanley’s Motor Cars across the street, taking a short break from work.

Catty-corner at The Same as it Never was Resale, a second-hand shop, Joey Rodriguez expresses a tinge of nostalgia. “It was a pity that it went down to nothing,” he said, taking a break from hauling a couch into the store.

That said, Rodriguez, who’s lived in the neighborhood for about three years, thinks demolition is a good idea. “It’s starting to look better. I like the idea that they’re cleaning up,” he said.

After years sitting abandoned, crumbling, the building was acquired by the city of Elkhart last year. The property had been considered a safety concern and officials decided to tear it down, starting the effort in mid-February.

Denny Correll, the brownfields coordinator for the city of Elkhart, said Friday that the work proceeds on schedule, with 80 percent of the demolition done and completion still slated for April 6. After that, the soil will be tested to see if any environmental issues lurk down below.

Then officials will “wait until somebody comes by with a great idea,” Correll joked. The future use of the 3.2-acre piece of property still has to be determined.

BUGGIES, CARS, SOCKS, PIANOS

Though no one seems to be crying over the departure of the big building at Beardsley and Michigan, it’s held an integral spot in Elkhart over the years, according to Paul Thomas. He’s curator of Time Was Museum and an expert in all things to do with Elkhart.

When built in 1889, it served as the Indiana Buggy Co., making “fancy horse buggies,” according to Thomas. Autos and motorcycles were later made there, even ambulance bodies.

From 1940 to 1954, the structure housed the Dobbins Manufacturing Co., maker of spraying and crop dusting equipment. Then a store, United Mills Department Store, or MISCO, took over from 1957 to 1962. Piano maker Walter Piano, where the structure gets its current moniker, moved in around 1971, followed by several other businesses and the structure was finally vacated in 1995.

“There’s a lot of memories there, then it (fell into) disarray,” Thomas said.

Thomas particularly remembers when it was MISCO, the department store. “I can recall just the sight of table after table of socks,” he said.

Correll, the city official helping oversee demolition, said the next step is pulling down the four-story elevator shaft. Old bricks, concrete and steel from the site are being recycled.


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