FAIRBANKS — After standing for 112 years — surviving fire, floods, earthquakes and snowloads — Fairbanks’ historic Masonic Temple on First Avenue was undone by the winter of 2018.
Half of the roof collapsed to the second-story floor Saturday afternoon. By 10 p.m., the building was demolished. Demolition crews managed to save the “1906” and “Masonic Temple” signs.
City of Fairbanks Communications Director Teal Soden said the city’s chief engineer and building inspector jointly decided the temple was a danger to the public. First and Second avenues between Wickersham and Cowles streets were closed all day.
Asbestos was not thought to be a concern, but staff was ready with water in case dust became a problem, Soden said.
No one was injured in the collapse, but employees from an adjacent restaurant had been inside the building about 30 minutes before the incident.
One of the biggest immediate concerns was the building’s west wall, which was bowed and potentially jeopardizing First Church of Christ, Scientist. Exclusive Paving brought in two excavators to dismantle the building.
It’s the second roof collapse in three days. On Thursday, the roof of F&H Fitness Studio in south Fairbanks collapsed. No one was injured in that incident. Unlike the studio’s flat roof, the temple’s roof was sloped.
City engineer Bob Pristash suspects a combination of age and dry rot crippled the temple.
“It made it through all the winters before. Eventually it just weakens and cracks, weakens and cracks a little bit more,” Pristash said, adding that the lack of a vapor barrier made dry rot a likely culprit.
Jay Smith, an employee of adjacent Big Daddy’s BarB-Q, was inside the Masonic Temple minutes before it collapsed. “I went there to grab some straws. … We go in there all the time to grab stuff,” he said.
Smith didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary, and went on with his job. “Locked the door like usual,” he said.
This winter, more than 80 inches of snow has fallen in Fairbanks, making it the 18th snowiest winter on record and the snowiest since 1992-93, said Rick Thoman at the National Weather Service. Snowloads, however, are about 29.6 pounds per square foot at Fairbanks International Airport. City building codes call for roofs to withstand 50 pounds per square foot, but the temple was built long before current codes were in place.
Originally constructed as the Tanana Commercial Company Store, the Masonic Temple, 809 First Ave., was built in 1906 and purchased by the Masonic Lodge two years later. The tin-pressed facade, perhaps the building’s most notable element, was added in 1916. President Warren G. Harding spoke from the building’s steps when he visited Fairbanks in 1923. In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
It has been vacant for many years. Fairbanks businessman Harold Groetsema bought the structure in 2006 with plans to renovate the building as a banquet hall. But he had been stymied by structural problems from the foundation to the roof, Groetsema told the News-Miner in 2014. The building was assessed at $150,000 at the time, but to bring it up to code would have cost four times that.
At the time, Groetsema said that the framing was 2-by-4 construction on 4-foot centers. The east and west walls sloped out even in 2014, among other structural issues.
On Saturday, Groetsema said he’s just happy no one was hurt, and he managed to find a hint of comedic irony at the sign on the building warning people to watch for falling snow.
Groetsema had mixed feelings on the fate of the building. “One, It’s an old building, it would have cost a lot of money to fix it. Two, it’s a part of Fairbanks.”
Contact staff write Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity. Julie Stricker contributed to this story.