Roof of Woodberry’s Tractor Building is partially demolished after falling bricks damage cars below

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Crews work to partially demolish the roof of the Tractor Building after bricks fell from the structure and damaged cars below. Photo by Ed Gunts.

As if living in a pandemic wasn’t enough, bricks dropped from the sky in Woodberry yesterday, as part the historic Clipper Mill Tractor Building fell onto cars in the street below.

An emergency crew worked through much of Friday to remove loose bricks and demolish parts of seven rooftop light monitors in an effort to stabilize the cavernous industrial building, which dates to 1916 and is the last major structure at Clipper Mill that hasn’t been renovated for contemporary uses.

Two cars parked on Clipper Park Road received extensive damage from falling bricks and other debris, including a smashed windshield and dented hood on a Honda and a shattered back window on a Hyundai.

The road was closed to traffic for most of the day so workers could use a crane and cherry picker to gain access to the light monitors, where the bricks came off. The crane and cherry picker were gone by 3 p.m. and the road was reopened. The Tractor Building has most recently been used for parking but was closed off while the demolition work was underway.

“We started early this morning. We had to demo it,” said a woman who was monitoring workers from the ground and talking to the crane operator. “It’s safe now.”

Workers clean up debris after bricks from the Tractor Building fell to the street below. Photo by Ed Gunts.

The woman wouldn’t give her name but said she was with WPM, the property manager for Clipper Mill. She said she received reports that bricks started falling off the building around 8 a.m. Thursday morning, the same time a heavy storm swept through the area, and that no one was injured. She said the two damaged cars were covered with blue tarps so rainwater wouldn’t get inside and that cars parked inside the Tractor Building weren’t damaged.

The property manager said contractors have inspected the building and determined that no other emergency repairs are needed after the stabilization work they finished Friday. She said she didn’t know what caused the bricks to fall, but she thought it might have just been the structure’s age. “It’s an old building.”

At least two residents who watched the work said they thought the heavy rain could have made the building less stable.

Jessica Meyer, a resident of Millrace Condominiums at Clipper Mill, said she thought another contributing factor is that the building is in poor condition, as evidenced by the missing windows on the north side.

“It hasn’t been maintained,” she said. “It has deteriorated significantly in the past year.”

Workers on the cherry picker hammered at sections of the roof to remove bricks and mortar, and threw the debris into a metal container held up by the crane. The container of debris was eventually lowered to a dump truck and hauled away.

Throughout the day, Clipper Mill residents and others walked, jogged or biked by as the work proceeded, some taking cell phone photos of the demolition work. “It’s lucky no one was injured,” said one man who stopped to take photos.

The collapse came less than two months after the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation voted to add the Tractor Building to its potential landmark list, a move that gives the panel authority to review any changes to the exterior for a six-month period.

The owner, ValStone Partners, announced plans last year to convert the building to 99 apartments and said it wanted to remove the entire roof and at least one wall so it could construct a “building within a building” to contain the apartments. Their architect, Martin Marren, argued that it wasn’t feasible to build the apartments and also preserve the roof and light monitors.

Two homeownership groups at Clipper Mill questioned the developer’s approach, saying it didn’t preserve enough of the Tractor Building’s exterior. Their challenge led to CHAP’s decision to make the building a potential landmark and review the design.

ValStone, led by developer Larry Jennings, is scheduled to present its plans to CHAP in a public hearing in May.

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