First Street in La Salle was closed in a two-block area after the rear of a two-story building abruptly collapsed at 10:11 a.m. Monday.
The building in question is a long-vacant tavern on the northeast corner of First and Tonti streets. An illuminated Old Style sign remains perched on the building’s southwest corner.
There were no reports of injuries but La Salle police and firefighters cordoned off Tonti Street between First and Second streets to protect the public. La Salle officials are asking the public to avoid the area for crews to work on the scene.
La Salle Resident Chris Lopez, who lives across the street from the building, heard the it begin to collapse and was able to capture a live video of the event with his camera.
“I heard a rumble,” Lopez said. “Then when I looked at the video, I got two shots of it. The rumble I heard was coming from the back corner, and the back wall falling, and then the rest of it just following through.”
The collapse caused some damage to the neighboring building to the east owned by La Salle resident Tom Arnold. At this time the extent of that damage is unknown.
According to city officials the building was formerly Little El’s in the 1950s, Labre in the 1960s, a Moose Lodge in the beginning of the 1970s and the First Street Pub in the late 1970s but it has been unoccupied for the last 25 years or so. The owner of the building, Marcus Williams, 40, of 410 Shabbona St., Streator, purchased the property in a tax sale.
Passersby said they have noticed various warning signs from looking at the building, such as bricks popping out. City Building Inspector Andy Bacidore ordered the installation of barricades around the building about a month ago after deeming it unsafe.
“The building department with the city, we’ve been in litigation with him (the owner) over this building for 2 1/2 years now,” Bacidore said. “COVID delayed some of that stuff but we are still in litigation. We felt the building was unsafe and as recently as a month ago we noticed some bricks popping out.”
According to La Salle County Circuit Court records, a lawyer for the city of La Salle filed a petition in autumn 2019 to declare the property abandoned, calling it “dangerous and unsafe” to the public, and which would clear the way for the city to declare the building a dangerous structure and for eventual demolition or rehabilitation.
That petition was granted shortly before Christmas of that year when Williams failed to show. Early in 2020, however, Williams retained a lawyer and persuaded La Salle County Circuit Judge Troy D. Holland to vacate his ruling the property was abandoned.
Williams then sought extensions to conduct repairs. The case appears to have been repeatedly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and again in May when Williams retained La Salle attorney William Hintz to represent him.
Williams could not be reached immediately for comment. However, Hintz said Williams was aware of the collapse and had contacted a demolition crew.
“He was in the process of interviewing and obtaining a structural engineer to make sure the building was repaired properly,” Hintz said. “This is an unfortunate timing situation.”
Bacidore said he believes the rest of the building will now have to come down.
“The city can only do what the court allows us,” Bacidore said. “We tried to go the right way about it, the legal way about it, to go through proper due process. Just hope and pray no one was in there messing around.”
As far as city officials are aware, the building was secured shut. From inspection of the downstairs doors of the building, they don’t appear to have been tampered with as of this time.
While no direct cause has been listed for the collapse, officials said it could have resulted from a number of factors including rain, wildlife, wind or just something that randomly occurred. Whatever the reason, many officials said this was something that wasn’t a complete surprise given the state of the building.
“Right now we are in the process of waiting for heavy equipment,” said La Salle Fire Chief Jerry Janick. “The technical rescue team hasn’t found any signs of any possible occupants. They are going to start peeling back some of the debris on top to get a better look down below.”
MABAS Division 25′s Technical Rescue Team conducted a series of searches and tests to determine if anyone may have been within the building. No indications of such events were found.
The rescue team used a variety of tools including sound detection devices, cameras and alarm systems to detect any building movement.
The cause remains under investigation.
La Salle officials said there is not a planned power outage at this time, however, as work continues it may become necessary to cut the power in the area, which would affect roughly 242 customers downtown. The work is expected to take a minimum of two hours.
The NewsTribune will have more information as it becomes available.
Source: The Daily Chronicle