The Courthouse Square Preservation Commission (CSPC) approved the demolition of the building at 208 S. Lamar — the former location of Stella Restaurant — at its special meeting this morning.
City building official Chris Carter said that contractors recently drilled into mortar supporting the bricks that make up the building’s exterior walls. After drilling into the mortar, it began to crumble.
“The fear is that, if the whole wall is indeed like that, any further vibration is going to cause it to crumble,” Carter said.
CSPC member Andy Phillips asked Carter if there was a possibility that the building could fall now.
“The short answer is yes … there is a possibility that building could fall today, tomorrow (or) the next day,” Carter said. “That’s the reason we have taken the measures to block the sidewalks.”
The building at 208 S. Lamar is attached to the back of the building that houses Square Books, one of Oxford’s most iconic locations.
CSPC member Griffin Tanner asked Carter if any studies were done on how demolishing the building would affect Square Books.
“We’ll put a plan in place of how to safely tear it down,” Carter said. “Construction is inherently dangerous anyway. To ask guys to go in there and work on that building, even to try and (demolish) it is a scary thought, to be honest.”
Contractors were in the process of installing bracing to remove the south and west walls. When they began drilling into the mortar to install the bracing, they saw that the mortar could not support the building.
Phillips added that according to city ordinances 54 and 31, if a city building official says that a building is unsafe, the CSPC does not need to vote for it to be demolished unless it can be repaired. Carter asked that the CSPC not grant demolition and then require a demolition plan to be requested before the Board of Alderman because the issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
No members of the public spoke at the meeting. Commission member Donna Laurenzo recommended that the commission make a motion to demolish the building and emphasized that this was a “sad day” for the city.
Commission member Donna Gottshall said it was sad to demolish the building, but not surprising because they had done walkthroughs, and the east and west walls were not secure.
“It’s a sad thing, but this building has lived its life expectancy, and it’s time to move on basically,” Gottshall said.