Quick – think of things that are done in the middle of the night. A third shift job? Breaking into a home? A little lovey-dovin? Halloween pranks? Now, another, quite unusual activity can be added to that fairly short list – tearing down a historical building.
The Lake Shore and Southern Michigan freight house located at Fourth Street and Clinton has stood its ground for 97 years, but it is no match for an unsympathetic owner itching to tear it down and a wrecking ball waiting in the dark of night. On Monday morning, citizens of Fort Wayne along with the included group of Clinton Street drivers woke up to the view of the freight house being smashed onto the ground – brick by brick and beam by beam.
Built in 1912, the freight house is one of the last vestiges of an era when iron horses with their plumes of steam roamed the countryside and provided a common way of travel and transportation of goods. Back before flying machines and horseless buggies became a way of life – increasing familial distance and ushering in an age of convenient mobility that trains and railways could not match.
Rifkin, the Destroyer, spends much of his interview time tossing out various excuses as to why the building just “had to go.” Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, president of historic preservation group ARCH, which placed the depot on its “endangered” list in 1999, said she had discussed the depot’s future with Rifkin and even offered to pay for an analysis of the building’s structural integrity.
Rifkin never took ARCH up on its offer to pay for a structural analysis. Why? Rifkin claims he feared an analysis funded by ARCH might have been biased in favor of preservation. Or perhaps his fear was that the building would be sound enough to save – getting in the way of his plans to rid the corner of the freight house.
Rifkin opines over and over again how he never heard from preservationist groups. If anyone has followed this at all, he or she knows this is absolutely false. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society along with Kelly Lynch and Michael Galbraith worked tirelessly to develop plans and ideas for the old freight station.
And, contrary to what Rifkin says about lack of interest, I have been told by an involved and trustworthy source that Rifkin was provided ample offers. What he chose to do was to reject each as not sufficient. Of course, he owns the property, and he can take that action. But why not just come clean and admit that, all along, his game plan was to demolish the station and that any delay on his part was so he could simply throw his hands up at the end and cry, “See how hard I tried.”
Rifkin also tries to place blame on the City for issuing an order – not an order of demolition but rather an order that included the fact that the building was open. Rifkin could easily have resolved that problem, but, somehow in his rush to get rid of the station, he perverted the contents of the order and turned it into a mandate to demolish the station.
As happens too often, economic priority trumps historical significance. Heaven forbid that private property rights of an individual might just need to yield to the greater good of saving our history. So, on Sunday evening the wrecking equipment began appearing on the property – blending in with the bridge construction equipment in an effort to evade detection.
And, in the wee hours of Monday morning, before anyone had an inkling of what was happening, the equipment operators started their engines, lumbered toward the old depot, and went to work during the dark of night to attack and destroy a part of Fort Wayne rail history – a historical building that had life left in its old bones but now will be forever lost.