MOUNT VERNON -- For the first time in about 100 years, there is no building standing at the corner of Main Street and First Avenue in Mount Vernon.
The adjoining buildings that previously housed the Mustang Cafe and American Legion Hall were on fire at 6:44 a.m. Sunday, and less than 30 minutes later, the walls had fallen in, Mayor Weston Frank told The Daily Republic on Monday.
Within hours, all but a few small flames were extinguished, and workers from Schoenfelder Construction cleaned up the remaining debris. But while the demolition itself went more quickly than Frank expected, getting to the point where it could be done did not.
"As a young mayor, it's been very eye-opening to me on how much time and how much red tape there is to go through to abate a problem like that," said Frank, who took over as mayor in March. "I really feel for any other municipality out there that has to deal with it, just for the simple fact that it is not as easy as, 'Man, that building's a problem; let's knock it down.' It just does not work like that. You have to have permission, you have to make sure that everything is legal and you have to make sure that you have insurance to make sure everybody's safe."
Frank said he's unsure exactly how old the building was when it was demolished, but that it was likely built in the early 1900s, as a nearby building was built in 1909 and a large fire in the late 1800s destroyed Main Street buildings.
Before the American Legion took control, that side of the building was a grocery store. The other side, best known for housing the Mustang Cafe into the 1990s, was previously home to Scott Drug, a drug store with a soda fountain, and the upper level served as a doctor's office and later the owners' home.
It's been closed to the public for well over two decades, and while there was ongoing speculation on potential issues with the building -- Frank said he remembers hearing it mentioned at his first City Council meeting in 2016 -- it wasn't until last fall that plans were put into motion.
In September, Mount Vernon resident, construction company owner and antique lover Robert Hoffman got permission to go into the building and noticed the floor had given way. He immediately informed city maintenance, and the building was soon declared a public nuisance.
"If it wasn't for Robert's love of antiques, I don't know if we would've found the problem there, just because nobody knew how to find somebody to find out what was going on with the property," Frank said.
The city was eventually able to track down the Mustang Cafe building's out-of-state owner, but by the time she gave permission for it to be torn down, winter was underway, making weather less than ideal for demolition.
Once spring arrived, possible demolition dates were ruled out for falling on holidays or dates when other events were scheduled on Main Street or for not having the proper weather conditions, as rain and standing water on Mount Vernon's roads have been a problem this year.
"Yesterday was the only day that we could see that we didn't have anything scheduled downtown, that nobody was going to be doing anything," Frank said. "We wanted it on a Sunday because the bar is closed on Sundays. We made sure there was the least chance of anybody being around to be injured."
When the Mount Vernon Volunteer Fire Department has brought down the building, with the help of the Plankinton and Ethan fire departments, Frank said wind conditions and moisture from rain the night before kept things falling where they were supposed to and not igniting anything outside the lot, and only a few bricks and some ash landed in the streets.
The next step is for bricks to be hauled away and recycled, but after that, the fate of the two lots -- one owned by the city and one still owned by the American Legion -- has yet to be decided.
"We've discussed a lot of potential things, like a bigger fire department that might have an annex on it for the Legion hall," Frank said. "I'd love if a business would come to town, too."