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50 – Year Landmark Down in Seconds

From the Detroit Free Press – Saturday, April 30, 1977 p. 18-C

    BY DEE SIEGELBAUM
    FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

    In a spectacular example of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t, St. Mary’s Academy, a Windsor landmark for 50 years, was reduced to a smoking pile of rubble Friday.
    The red brick and concrete structure fell to the ground in seconds under the impact of 1,000 pounds of dynamite exploding like a barrage of cannon fire.

    HUNDREDS OF St. Mary’s neighbors, many of whom had fought to save the rambling neo-Gothic structure which served as a girls school until 1971, watched as it was blown to bits by demolition experts to make room for a 134-home subdivision.

    Teenagers perched on rooftops and fences surrounding the 30-acre site cheered as the 364,000-square-foot church and school building crashed down about 5:45 p.m., almost four hours behind schedule. Police kept the crowds a safe distance from the explosion.

    “It’s about the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in Windsor,” said Steve Samson, 16, who confessed that he skipped school for the occasion.
    Frank Fihn, 25, said his mother and two sisters attended St. Mary’s. “My sister said if she came she’d cry, so she’s not coming,” he explained.

    Even relative newcomers to the neighborhood were sorry to say farewell to the stately “building with its ornate bell tower, classic architecture and peaceful grounds.
    “I hate to see it go because it’s such a “unique piece of architecture,” said Frances MacGregor, who has lived in a house near St. Mary’s gates for a year.

    Efforts to find a use for the building and restore it had failed. Two years ago R. C. Pruefer Co. Ltd. decided to demolish it and develop the property, which is located in the middle of a residential section.

    THE SERENITY OF the edifice was shattered forever by a team of nationally renowned precision blasting experts from Controlled Demolition Inc. (GDI), a family firm whose activities have been depicted in a beer commercial.

    The Baltimore-based company specializes in bringing down buildings quickly and safely, with a minimum of noise and ground tremor.

    Dynamite demolition’s big advantage over conventional wrecking is speed, which also may make it somewhat cheaper, according to the developers of the St. Mary’s site.

    After a four-hour delay caused by problems with the intricate system of electrical wiring which set off thousands of blasting caps inside the buildng, the demolition went smoothly.

    Just about the only negative fallout was on spectators, policemen, homes and cars downwind of the dust cloud generated by the blast. GDI President John Loizeaux, who headed the St. Mary’s project, depends on gravity to do much of the demolition as possible.

    Sticks of dynamite were planted in holes drilled in the building’s support beams, and a series of blasts timed at one-second intervals collapsed the building in on itself, instead of propelling the debris outward.

    The seven GDI employes who worked on the St. Mary’s job clearly enjoyed their jobs. “You see immediate results; that’s the fun part,” said Tom Golley, 21. “There’s a big release after it’s finished.”

    Even the demolition team, though, regretted the demise of a fine old building. “But if it has to come down,” reasoned GDI employe Alec McCosh, “it might as well come down with a flourish.”

    FREE PRESS PHOTOS BY RICHARD LEE

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