BELFAST, Maine — The former Belfast Maskers’ building stood about 145 years on the city waterfront.
On Tuesday, it took a demolition crew only three hours or so to take the red wooden structure down.
“It’s kind of sad,” Mayor Walter Ash said while watching the rubble get scooped into large metal dumpsters. “It’s real sad, as a matter of fact.”
But the city-owned building, built around 1870 as a freight house for the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, was beyond repair, according to city officials. An effort made this winter to give the building away to anyone who would pick it up and haul it off the property failed, and so the demolition was scheduled for this fall.
It was most recently occupied by the Belfast Maskers’ community theater group, which staged many plays there. But in 2011, the tenants had to find a new home when the city insurance policy stopped covering the building, and it has been vacant ever since — or officially vacant, at least.
“Lots of rats and pigeons are now homeless,” quipped a resident who came by to watch a bit of the demolition.
Architectural elements from the structure were rescued and set aside for three area nonprofit agencies that wanted them — the Brooks Preservation Society, the Belfast Historical Society and Our Town Belfast.
The dilapidated structure needed to be removed because the city received a $200,000 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the 2.79-acre site, which has contaminants in the soil.
City officials have yet to come to a consensus on the future of the waterfront land. Ash said Tuesday that he’d like to see it remain open space to provide parking for restaurants in the area and for users of the Belfast Harborwalk. Other councilors have said they would like it to become home to other shops and eateries.
“It’s unfortunate the building was in as sad a state as it was and couldn’t be salvaged,” City Planner Wayne Marshall said Tuesday, adding that its demolition will now provide some options for Belfast. “I think it’s one step to the next steps.”