David Renshaw – Demolition Man

David Renshaw and I didn’t exactly get off on the right foot.

I told Mother I wanted to cruise by 501 Broadway to get a shot of an old building that was due to be torn down. I had photos of it, but I wanted one with the fence around it that would say, “Days are numbered.” I left her in the car with the heater running. (As always, click on any image to make it larger.)

Lutheran Church mural

I shot the west side, where the big blue mural is; wandered around to the front; decided I might as well walk down the east side, not because the photos would be all that interesting, but because I wanted some record shots. My eye was drawn to what looked like an enclosed wooden porch on the second floor. In the middle window of the porch was a gold-colored object that looked like it might be a trophy. Curious.

What’s in the window?

While I was looking at it, I noticed a gap in the fence and a black vehicle pulling into the building through the fence. I decided to “follow that car” to see if I could get some interior shots. I didn’t spot anyone right away, but, walking further in, I ran into a young woman. I handed her my card and started to explain what I was doing when a man walked up asking what I wanted.

500 Block of Broadway

I launched into my standard 30-second elevator speech and got to the part where I said, “I used to work for The Missourian.” That was not a good thing to say because David Renshaw was not happy with part of a Missourian story that morning.

Not happy with Missourian story

What had his tail twisted was a line in the Nov. 15, 2010, story that said, “[Tim Morgan, director of the city’s Inspection Services Department] and church leaders did not know the exact day the building would come down. But the church has hired Sabre Excavating of Thebes, Ill., to do the work. David Renshaw, of Sabre, did not return phone calls Monday.

“How could I return a phone call that I didn’t know I’d gotten,” he said, and walked away. Brandy Williams, the young woman clarified. The reporter had called his home number and left a message there. He didn’t get it until much later.

Translating newspaperspeak

Let me digress here to talk a little about newspaper-speak. In the old days, reporters wrote what information they had and put it into the paper. At some point, people started complaining that, “You didn’t let me tell MY side of the story.” To counter that argument, you started to see some of the following phrases in the paper. How they were interpreted depended a lot on the paper’s policies and local customs.

  •  “Refused to comment” – You asked the subject a question and they refused to answer.
  • “Not authorized to comment on the record” – That meant you got all kinds of juicy info, but you couldn’t attach the person’s name to it.
  • “Didn’t immediately return phone calls” – Now that we’re into 24/7 news cycles, that means, “I was on deadline, called the person, left a message and they didn’t call me back in the five minutes before I had to file this story.”
  • “Didn’t return repeated telephone calls” – Subject has been dodging me.
  • “Didn’t return repeated calls to his office, home and cell” – Reporter is getting cranky
  • “Did not return phone calls” – this was the Renshaw complaint, which I think was valid. The implication was that Renshaw was dodging the call. The reality was that he didn’t KNOW there was a call. That might not have been the reporter’s intent, but that’s the way it was perceived, with reason.

“I’m really not a rude guy”

Renshaw came back a couple of minutes later. “I’m not really a rude guy. This just had me a little upset.”

I told him that I was not responsible for anything that happened at The Missourian after 1967. After that, we got along great.

I was discussing interviewing techniques with someone the other day. I said that I approach an interview the same way that I approach fly fishing: I think there’s a big bass hiding under that sunken log and I’ll make a test cast to test my theory. If I’m lucky, I’ve landed a lunker. More than likely, my question won’t get a nibble, so I’ll cast another one. If I’ve tried two or three casts without a nibble, I’ll switch bait and fling it again.

Piercing blue eyes

Renshaw has these piercing blue eyes and a bemused expression that deliver the message, “That was a really dumb question” without him having to say a word. He’s the big bass under the log who can’t be fooled with artificial lures.

Like he said, he’s not a rude guy, but I get the feeling he doesn’t suffer fools kindly.

One the other hand, I was impressed with how introspective and how insightful he was. He has a real appreciation for the buildings he’s destroying.

“It’s too far gone”

Looking at the tin ceiling on the first floor, with pieces of it falling down and with water dripping from it, I asked if there was any salvage value to it.

“It would mean something to someone,” he said, picking up a rusted and rotten piece from the floor. “But, you can’t save it. It’s too far gone. What are you going to do with it?

“I worked for a demolition contractor in St. Louis for eight years, then I came home. That’s my dad in there knocking stuff down. I just wanted to come home.”

 Are the bricks worth anything?

“I can’t get anyone to come get them. I’ve called and I’ve called and I’ve called. If I clean them and pallet them up, I might get 30 cents up to two bucks a brick, but they’ve got to be the right brick. The guy’s wife has to like it.

“Brick places want you to take some bricks and lay them out to take a pretty picture, flip ’em over and take another picture, flip ’em over and take another picture, flip ’em over and take another picture. That’s six bricks out of how many there are in here?

“We did it on one project and we didn’t make anything – maybe $25 a pallet. I don’t have a place to store it.”

“I cut every section of that bridge”

He looked at my business card that has a photo of the old Mississippi River Bridge on it. “I cut every section of that bridge with a huge pair of metal shears. I did that. I was handing out handfuls of rivets to people for souvenirs. I still have some pieces of the debris.

Then, he told me a touching story. “I remember when I was first getting started out in Operators. I had a bunch of [union] stickers. I was stuck in traffic on the bridge with my son, who was about eight or nine. There wasn’t anything to do, so I gave him some stickers and he started sticking them on the side of the bridge – Ironworkers stickers – just sticking them on the side of the bridge.

“And, when I was cutting that bridge up, when I got to that piece of the bridge, the stickers were still there. I cut it out and kept it. My son’s 21 now.”

Mortar has turned to powder

“I think the best thing you can do to this building is to tear it down. There’s nothing here.”

He pointed out obvious cracks in the walls. There are metal bracing bolts coming through the brick wall the mural is painted on, but there are no plates screwed to them. There are places where the mortar has been patched, but most of the mortar is so powdery that you can dig it out with your fingernail with no effort.

Roof is leaking

When we walked across the roof, I commented that it didn’t look too bad. He said the leaks aren’t obvious. “You saw the water pouring down through the ceiling. The roof is leaking.”

What I thought was a trophy

When I asked if it was safe to go up on the second floor, he said he’d be happy to take me up, “but there’s nothing up there but junk”. He thought I might like to go on the roof, though, to shoot the surrounding neighborhood. He said there’s a third floor to the building, but the access to it is boarded up. He didn’t know what, if anything, was up there.

It WAS junk

When we got to the second floor, he was right. Whoever had lived in the two apartments there had left behind plenty of debris, but most of it wasn’t very interesting: just some old books, a couple of Samsonite suitcases – “We had a Vietnam vet up here the other day; he remembered carrying suitcases that looked like that” – a pair of crutches and some ratty furniture.

“This is going to be gone forever”

Like I wrote yesterday, just I started to walk out of the room, I turned and said, “I guess I should get a picture of the building across the street. It may be the last picture ever taken with this viewpoint.”

That’s when Renshaw said something that struck me enough that it’s worth repeating: “I learned one thing in demolition – and I look at it from a lot of different ways. This is it. You just said it. This is going to be gone forever. Gone. No more. Right now you just experienced the last thing forever.

“There was a four-year-old little boy up here this morning – his dad is in this kind of work – and he was standing here leaning on this windowsill wanting to go back over there [to the Playhouse]. When he’s 20 years old, he won’t even remember this building.”

View from Discovery Playhouse

He thinks the building will start coming down around the first of December. “It should go fast, then the trucks will start rolling in here. That’s when people will really start taking note. They really don’t know something’s going on until that.”

Cape firefighters took advantage of the soon-to-be demolished building to practice some of their skills. Missourian photographer Fred Lynch captured a gallery of photos of their training.

“A Time to Build Up; A Time to Tear Down”

Reader Lyndel Revelle commented yesterday, “It is sad to see them gone forever but then it reminds me of the Byrds song, Turn, Turn ,Turn, (taken from the book of Ecclesiastes) where you find these words, ‘To everything there is a season a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to build up and a time to tear down.’”

501-503 Broadway Photo Gallery

Here’s a gallery of photos I’ve taken of 501-503 Broadway and its neighbors over the past few years. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.


“Going to be Gone Forever”

I was going to shoot a quick mug shot of the building at 501 Broadway, the one that has the big blue mural on the side of it, because it’s going to be torn down in the next couple of weeks. The property has been purchased by Trinity Lutheran Church. The cleared lot will be used for parking or for green space, a Missourian story said.

I happened to there at just the right time to catch David Renshaw, the guy who is going to knock it down. He gave me a tour of the old building and said some things that are worth a whole separate story. This post spins off one I did about neighborhood businesses and landmarks in Cape. One of them was Discovery Playhouse, a Broadway success story. The old building, constructed in 1916, has been turned into a children’s museum.

When I checked the link, I saw this March 22, 2010, photo taken from the second floor of the Playhouse, looking past the old Walther’s sign toward the building across the street that’s going to be torn down. (The Walther’s sign has been changed to read Discovery Playhouse, as you can see in the photo below.)

Nobody will have this view again

Renshaw said there wasn’t much to see upstairs at 501 Broadway, and I had to agree with him. I love old buildings, but this one was in sad shape. As much as I would have loved to have done a weeper about a poor old historic building being destroyed, I couldn’t do it. Sometimes the patient is too far gone for for heroic measures. The time to have saved it was before the roof started leaking and the mortar between the bricks started crumbling to powder.

Just as I started to walk out of the room, I turned and said, “I guess I should get a picture of the building across the street. It may be the last picture ever taken with this viewpoint.”

A friend of mine who used to do construction rehab said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met an introspective–much less, articulate–demo guy.  Usually they’re the bottom of the construction hierarchy, along with roofers.  Probably because both trades normally hire casual labor with little in the way of permanent skills.”

“Gone. No more”

Well, my friend never met David Renshaw. What he said captured my thoughts exactly.

Renshaw said, “I learned one thing in demolition – and I look at it from a lot of different ways. This is it. You just said it. This is going to be gone forever. Gone. No more. Right now you just experienced the last thing forever.”

He nailed it.

If I get my act together, you’ll see photos inside and outside 501-503 Broadway tomorrow. Renshaw was also the guy who used a pair of huge shears to make all the cuts on the Mississippi River Traffic Bridge just before it splashed into the river. I’ll share his touching story about something he found on the bridge that will show that he’s not just some brute who knocks things down.

Walther’s Becomes Discovery Playhouse

Volunteers were busy converting the old Walther’s Furniture Store and Funeral Home at 502 Broadway into the Discovery Playhouse when I was home earlier this spring. It opened April 22.

It looks like it’s going to be a great place for kids to cool off during Cape’s hot and humid summer.

Playhouse starting on the ground floor

The Playhouse is a two-story building, with an attached section that rises to three floors. All of the work is concentrating on the first floor at this time, with the other floors to be developed as funds become available.

Landmark sign to stay

I was told that the landmark Walther’s sign will remain, although it will be changed somewhat. I don’t know what those changes are.

The old parts of the building and the views from the windows fascinated me more than the playhouse in progress.

1916 was a big year

A Missourian roundup on Dec. 31, 1916, said that “1916 is prominent for the number of fine business houses erected, among them being the new home of the Buckner-Ragsdale, ‘Quality Corner Store,’ a handsome structure, the upper floor of which is occupied by the Cape Girardeau Business College; Walther Brothers Furniture Store, one of the largest in Missouri outside the three largest cities; the I. Ben Miller ice cream and candy factory, declared by State Dairy Commissioner Bennett to be the finest in the State of Missouri; the Meyer-Suedekum Hardware Company’s building and others.”

That’s a lot of landmark businesses in year. Meyer-Suedekum (now Meyer Supply) is the only one that has survived.

501-503 Broadway

Looking to the south from the second floor of the building, you can see 501 and 503 Broadway across the street. Hinchey-Greer Merchantile company occupied 501 Broadway around 1906. Alvin Cotner modified the building in 1919 or 1920 to house the Auto Parts Company, which was there until 1957. Cape Paint and Glass occupied the property from 1958 through 1991. An interior connection between the two buildings was made somewhere between 1908 and 1915.

Mural sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church

A mural, sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church is on the west wall of 503 Broadway. It reads, “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” That’s probably fitting to be across from the Discovery Playhouse.

It’s easy to get lost in old newspaper stories

While researching the Walther’s history, I got sidetracked with stories of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic and accounts of local boys going “over there” to fight the “huns.”  One thing that surprised me on the front page of the May 13, 1921 Missourian, was a pair of obituaries.

The first was three paragraphs giving an account of the funeral of Allbright Walther, retired furniture dealer of Cape Girardeau. It contained very little personal information.

Directly under it, was one headlined, Sam Randol, Ice Dealer Is Dead; Long Illness Fatal to Colored Man.” It went on to say that “Sam Randol, well-known colored ice dealer, died at his home…following a long illness with dropsy. It listed his relatives and the organizations he belonged to and some funeral arrangements.

It concluded by saying that “Randol was among the better colored citizens of Cape Girardeau and stood high both among the people of his race as well as among the white citizens. He had been in the ice business here since a young man and was known by most every family in the city.”

I would never have expected the second obit to have been given such prominence in that era. He must have really been an exceptional person.

Walther’s was the city’s oldest retail store

A business column announcing the closing of the furniture store in 1984 said it had been open continuously for 120 years, making it the oldest retail business in town.

Gallery of photos from Walther’s Furniture / Discovery Playhouse

Here is a selection of photos taken of the Discovery Playhouse renovation and views of the neighborhood. As always, click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.



Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.