RACINE – In March, the former Porters of Racine, a high-end furniture store that lasted 152 years, started to become something else: building materials for others.
The deconstruction of the 80,000-square-foot structure is beginning to wind down this month. By the end of this month, property owner Micah Waters hopes to start the process of toppling the walls as he marches toward creating a clean, 1-acre Downtown development site.
Porters closed in spring 2010. For more than three years, Waters, an architect by training, worked toward redeveloping Porters, 301 Sixth St., into street-level shops with 37 market-rate apartments above them.
But roadblocks in gaining financing for the $6 million plan ultimately led him to abandon that plan. The historic building, which started as nine separate ones, would come down.
Waters uses the term deconstruction, not demolition, to describe the process of carefully dismantling and removing whatever can be sold or recycled from the structure.
The deconstruction has involved about 10 laborers on most days, with the Porters parking lot serving as a staging area for salvaged materials. The company he formed for the redevelopment went into deconstruction mode instead.
To find buyers for materials, Waters said, “we literally just started doing Internet searches.” Eventually they hooked up with a Florida-based company, Wood and Bricks, which offered to buy as much of those commodities as Waters had.
Lumber, metal and bricks
Primarily, the salvage materials with value from Porters have been lumber, metal and bricks. Waters declined to provide his total sales but gave a rundown of quantities of the materials.
Lumber was the most valuable commodity: mostly heavy, 2-inch-thick floor joists, the longest of which was 24 feet long. Waters calculated his building will disgorge about 100,000 board feet of lumber.
The wood is old-growth red and white oak, Waters said, after having it tested by the University of Wisconsin. And it’s about three centuries old, he said. “(The trees) were 150 years old when they cut them,” and the original buildings date back to the 1800s.
Waters said much of the lumber, after having nails pulled and being inventoried, went to a Montana lumber yard. One load went to a furniture manufacturer.
The next-most-valuable material was metal, worth about half of what the lumber was worth, Waters said. More than 100 tons of copper wiring, ductwork, pipes and such have all been sold to local recycling companies.
Bricks come next, worth about 40 percent of what the lumber will sell for. Most are Cream City bricks and the rest “Chicago reds,” also called pinks, Waters said. He estimates a total of about 1.4 million bricks in the entire structure. He expects to be able to save about 60 percent, or about 840,000, after they are picked up one by one and the mortar chipped off. Broken bricks are discarded.
The exterior glass is being recycled and reused, but with no remuneration for Waters.
The exterior granite sheets are too small for reuse, but Waters intends to eventually cut them into pieces and give them away as mementos.
One surprise Waters found during the deconstruction was a basketball court-size gymnasium in the basement, adjacent to an old pool. “I knew about the pool, but not the gymnasium till we took the floor off,” he said. Both were in a former YWCA at 312-316 Seventh St.
He also found a safe that’s about 5 feet wide and 6 feet tall. It has seven different combination locks: one for the outer door and six for the separate compartments within.
“It’s disappointing to see an older building taken down,” said Don Schumacher, president of Preservation Racine. “But we’re encouraged that they’re going to save some of the artifacts, and we hope they can be incorporated into a new building on that site or somewhere else in the City of Racine.”
Waters shares that desire for the two Porters signs and old photos he’ll save.
As for his property’s future, he hearkened back to the redevelopment he originally intended: Shops with upscale apartments above. Waters predicted: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a project looks very much like what we were going to do, but new construction, and taller.”