ELKHART — Lisa Ward dropped off her husband for work at Master Automotive at 8 a.m. and began a six-hour vigil near the Elkhart Armory.
If not for a doctor’s appointment at 2:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 19, Ward might have spent the entire day watching the beginning of the end of the Armory as work crews began to slowly demolish the landmark building that’s been part of the downtown for more than 100 years.
Ward said she hoped to get a brick for her father, Richard Dooley, who is now 84 years old.
“My mom and dad met at the roller rink,” she said. “They met in ’48 and married in ’52.”
What brought her there was a sense of nostalgia and “knowing that that’s where it all began,” she said.
“It reminded me of the strong bond and relationship they had,” she said.
She wasn’t the only one who felt a twinge of emotion. A steady stream of people stopped by to watch a little history unfold and collapse before their eyes.
What they saw was an impressive effort to save parts of the building.
Throughout much of the day on Monday, workers with Indiana Earth Inc., of Osceola, used a tedious, somewhat surgical approach to save some of the unique elements of the building.
Ward and others watched from the west side of North Main Street as workers removed two corner pieces from atop the building. They then turned their attention to extracting sections of stone with the embedded words, “Elkhart Armory.”
One man atop a construction lift loosened bricks with hearty swings of a sledgehammer while another guy intermittently pried loose the bricks and tossed them into a dusty pile below.
“We want to save as much of the limestone as possible,” said project manager Eric Zell, who is working with Bruce Carter Associates on the project.
Pedestrians and motorists paused momentarily as work continued. Others sat down and brought cameras to capture the final moments of the building’s life.
Bill Stanner didn’t have to go far. He’s the owner of Mane Event, a hair salon across the street.
“I roller skated there in the 1950s,” Stanner said.
He said he was impressed with efforts to save parts of the building.
“That guy knows what he’s doing,” Stanner said of the worker who helped remove some of the stone.
Deana Lantz pulled over and took some photos. Her mother skated in the second floor rink, where rails of the rink could still be seen through the dirty windows of the upper floor.
She was pleased to hear the city intends to reuse some of the building.
“Good,” she said. “Like they did at the Bayer building and they used the front steps to make benches in the LaBour Park.”
David Mitschelen came to watch the activity and document the changes for the Facebook page, “I grew Up In Elkhart, IN.”
He remembered when it was an A&P store, a business machine store and it’s final identity — a liquor store.
He doesn’t share much of a sentimental attachment to the building.
“It looks pretty bad. I was in the building 30 years ago and I thought it should have been torn down then,” Mitschelen said.
When demolition is complete in late September, the city’s redevelopment commission will begin seeking investors to develop the land, which sits on the banks of the Elkhart River. Officials think it has plenty of appeal and could be a key addition to the downtown.
Those watching Monday had a few ideas for future use.
Stanner, the business owner: “I’d like to see a parking lot on this side of town. Something that’s decorative and ties in with the river.”
Lantz, a mom, said, “Maybe a skate park — that would be nice.”
Mitschelen harkened back to another old landmark that used to be a block or two north of the Armory.
“A Root Beer Barrel,” he said, referring to the old A&W root beer stand.