By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Brittany Woosley felt the first part of the Newcomb Hotel fall Sunday morning.
The wrecking ball from a Blick's Construction crane began swinging at about 8:30 a.m., and bricks continued to crumble throughout the morning and afternoon. After watching Friday night's five-alarm fire that destroyed the historic hotel, Woosley got up early Sunday to see the cleanup effort. She and her husband, Scott, began waiting for the first swing just before 6 a.m.
"When that big chunk fell down, I felt the ground shake," Woosley said.
City officials said Saturday their goal was to have the entire building to the ground by the end of Sunday, but demolition began more than two hours late after crews discovered steel beams at the rear of the structure.
The city also had to remove streetlights and a stoplight at Fourth and Maine, and deal with concerns about nearby parking lots and buildings. The plan then shifted to knocking down the top two or three floors and begin cleaning debris from Fourth Street and Maine Street.
"This is limited action for health and safety reasons," Director of Planning and Development Chuck Bevelheimer said Sunday.
Mayor Kyle Moore held a staff meeting early today to discuss the progress and the next steps involved with the cleanup. Crews worked until about 6 p.m. Sunday and were back on the job early Monday morning.
Despite main traffic arteries being closed Sunday, the downtown area saw a steady flow of spectator foot traffic. More than a dozen people gathered with Woosley near the Lincoln-Douglas apartment building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Maine at 6 a.m. Sunday.
"I'd expected a bigger crowd," Woosley said. "During the fire, the entire park was filled."
Even an early morning rain shower and a couple booms of lightning didn't push spectators indoors. Skies cleared, and the size of the crowd increased by the time of the wrecking ball's first swing two and half hours later. Dozens of people gathered behind the Gardner Museum, next to Hilbing Autobody, and in Washington Park across Maine Street. Some stayed for minutes, others stayed for several hours.
Tom Hilbing, owner of Hilbing Autobody, watched the demolition from the rooftop of his business on the west side of Fourth just south of the Newcomb Hotel. His business has neighbored the historic hotel since 1967, and he has seen the space change hands frequently.
Hilbing said vagrants often took shelter in the building, which had been vacant for more than 30 years. He has burn marks from cigarette butts in the building's floor.
"It's a beautiful building, and it's a shame what happened," Hilbing said. "I knew (a fire) was going to happen eventually if something wasn't done."
Bevelheimer said many people asked to salvage material from the structure. Jessica Shaw arrived at 7 a.m. Sunday hoping to get a door, window or even a piece of a decorative decal. She believed the architect responsible for the Newcomb Hotel also had designed her home. She wanted to preserve a part of Quincy history.
"Nobody has taken care of it," Shaw said of the Newcomb. "If someone had taken care of it, it could have remained in its glory."