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Short time for the Longhorn

The former home to Mitchell's Longhorn Bar is pictured in 2011. The city's oldest building will be demolished later this year. (File photo)

A young man is preparing to tear down the oldest building in Mitchell.

The old Longhorn Bar, built in 1879 but closed for 15 months since the partial collapse of a wall and the ceiling, will be razed in the next two months, according to Jared Balvin, who was hired by the city to tear it down. A brick building behind the bar will also be demolished. "It will be interesting," said Balvin, 24, a rural Tyndall resident. "It won't take too long to get the building down."

On Jan. 21, the Mitchell City Council voted to award a contract for the demolition of the closed bar to Balvin's company, Ironman Construction. He bid $109,559 for the project, while Schoenfelder Construction, of Mitchell, the only other bidder, submitted a bid of $223,710.

Public Works Director Tim McGannon said the city won't sign the contract with Balvin until he has insurance and bid, payment and performance bonds in place. McGannon said Balvin has assured him he can do that.

"He says he will," he said. "I think he's new to this big bidding work."

Balvin said Tuesday he will have all the paperwork in place soon, and plans to start work within a few days. He will do most of the work himself, but will subcontract for some tasks.

The bar was closed, and the business moved across the street, after a partial collapse of the ceiling and southern wall in November 2011. Owner Jason Bates became embroiled in a dispute with his insurance company and did not have the resources to repair or tear it down.

The old bar sat empty, and after some concern was expressed about the safety of people passing by it, the city placed barricades around it. Last summer, the city acquired the buildings, and the land under them, for $1 from Bates.

McGannon said he doubts it will further collapse.

"We've had the big winds, we've had heavy snows," he said. "So, probably, we're OK right now."

On Feb. 12, Balvin offered The Daily Republic a tour of the closed buildings.

Dark, and nearly empty, the floors are filled with rubble. Liquor bottles, most drained but some with a few inches of liquid still in them, are in a few crates.

An old TV, some chairs and other items hint to the bar that was inside the crumbling walls of the front building. Balvin has peeled back a few holes in the walls, showing the stone, which he calls a "chalk rock" that made up the 134-year-old building.

The north wall is shared with the adjacent VFW. He said the toughest part of the job will be demolishing the Longhorn without damaging the VFW.

Balvin said he fears the common "rubble wall" between the two businesses will collapse, causing the second floor of the Longhorn to come crashing down. To prevent that, he will add support beams to the VFW, and erect an 85-feet section of wall to add further stability.

"Those buildings were connected at one point on the upper level," said Larry Jirsa, a Mitchell architect who is working with Balvin on the project.

"We're all working together on it. We don't anticipate any problems," Jirsa said. "He seems very conscientious, responsible -- he's working through it."

Indeed, Balvin is studying the project carefully, although he teased a reporter when asked how he will bring the building down.

"Dynamite," he said with a straight face, eager for a reaction. Then he broke into a broad grin. In fact, he will use a heavy piece of construction equipment called an excavator.

The Longhorn Bar's former location is pictured here in 2011. The oldest building in Mitchell, it will be demolished later this year.

The city mandated that he obtain builder's risk insurance before starting the job to ensure that if damage does happen, it will be covered. Both Balvin and Jirsa said they are confident they can demolish the Longhorn without seriously impacting the VFW, although they said it may need to add some material on its southern wall, which will be exposed to the air and weather.

"There's going to be some kind of resurfacing done to that," Balvin said.

"You have to shore up the wall and take it down very carefully," Jirsa said. "We want to be sure we do it that way."

While the upper walls are fragile -- pieces easily break off, and supports have been put in place to keep it standing -- there is no fear of a collapse. The Longhorn basement's walls contain quartzite, Jirsa said.

"The foundations in the basement are in good shape," he said.

Jirsa said the upper levels of the old brick building in the back of the lot are fascinating to explore.

"It's like going back in time up there," he said.

The Longhorn Bar building went up two years before Mitchell was incorporated in 1881, and eight years before Dakota Territory was divided into South and North Dakota. Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant was president, and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men had made their last stand in Montana just three years earlier.

It housed Hammer Pharmacy at the start, and the owner of that business built it, said former Davison County Sheriff Lyle Swenson, the president of the Mitchell Area Historical Society. A Coast to Coast hardware was there for years as well. A Western Union office was located in the brick building in the back of the property, he said.

"The building has served a lot of purposes over the years," Swenson said.

Charlie Bates, the longtime owner of the Longhorn Bar, declined to discuss the building's history, and hung up when asked his thoughts on seeing it come down.

There are legends and rumors about the buildings. Balvin said he's been told there was once a brothel on the upper level, and the small, cramped rooms up there would provide areas for such nefarious activity to take place.

Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said he thinks that's possible. The rooms seem like something that was used for a "shortterm rental," he said with a laugh.

Swenson said while he has never heard that about the Longhorn property, he doesn't doubt it.

"Most of those hotels were all considered brothels," Swenson said. "They had some girls working there."

The hotels served railroad workers and other transients, he said. Prostitution was an accepted part of their businesses, as long as it was done quietly.

"Where there are guys and girls, things happen," Swenson said.

Overweg did find evidence of another business that was inside the building. It's a business card from a hardware business that was apparently located there in the 1930s that he found in the basement.

Once demolition starts, the First Avenue and Main Street intersection will be closed, McGannon said. Vehicles will still have access to businesses at the end of Main Street, he said, but will have to do a U-turn to leave the area.

The traffic lights and a light pole at the corner by the old bar will come down.

Mayor Ken Tracy said once the buildings are gone, the area may become a green space, which would offer an inviting approach to downtown. Another option is to place a parking lot to serve the new city hall and other municipal offices that are or will be located in that part of Mitchell.