PHOENIX — One of the city's older buildings was demolished Thursday after the owners decided that restoration would be too expensive.
Helen and Joe Nab, owners of an old fuel station at First and Main streets that housed Ken's Auto Repair for 24 years, said after it caught fire last Nov. 16 that they planned to restore the structure. But in the end, they couldn't pull it off.
Crews worked from mid-morning into the afternoon Thursday, reducing the cement structure to piles of rock and blackened lumber amidst a dust cloud and the persistent clacking of heavy machinery.
Helen Nab said she was sad to see the community lose the building, but restoration would have been cost prohibitive.
Former Ashland shoe-store owners, the Nabs purchased the station 27 years ago and rented the structure to mechanic Ken Peck for most of those years.
"The fire did such extensive damage that it would have cost many, many bucks to reinforce the building with steel and all these other things," Nab said.
"Everybody liked the building, but it really needed to be torn down and built up from the bottom. There was one wall totally propped up for support. We talked about it and did some research, but the answer was to tear it down. The explosion from the fire really weakened the cement walls. I guess it just wasn't meant to be."
Peck said he learned of the demolition as he drove through town to pick up his mail Thursday morning. While he had been heartened when the owners said they would restore the building, Peck said he had concerns about the stability of his old shop for many years.
"After the fire, everyone said, 'Be ready to go in March,' but they stopped working on it in early January, so I figured something's not right," Peck said.
"I think once they got it all cleaned up and everything, they probably realized the walls weren't structurally sound. I remember days with heavy rain storms when I could watch the water seep through the cement block, so that told me back then that the cement wasn't in too good of shape."
Surveying the piles of rubble across from his own shop, Phoenix Barber Shop owner Joe Caster said he was sad about the loss of the station — and even more saddened by the loss of his favorite neighbor.
"It's weird not having Ken there anymore; he was my mechanic," Caster said.
"It's the main drag, so it's weird to see the building gone. But I don't know about missing it. I'll miss Ken being there more."
After the fire, local residents raised money to help Peck, a popular mechanic who was known for his willingness to help customers afford needed vehicle repairs. Since the fire, the 59-year-old has done some small-engine repair and has reduced his workload. He is looking forward to retiring next year, he said.
The Nabs, who are in their 80s, say they plan to sell the property.
"At least it's not an eyesore and all boarded up anymore," Helen Nab said. "We'll clean it up and get the lot to look presentable for the center of town. If anyone wants to buy it, that's OK. If they don't, that's OK, too. Worrying and wondering is just a waste of time."
Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency Director Marla Cates said she understood the Nabs' predicament.
"I understand why they tore it down, but I think people would have been really amazed with what we wanted to do with it," she said.
Former customers of Peck can reach him at 541-535-2850.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com