Monday, March 26, 2012

Chicago Area Theatre Experiences Roof Failure

Midway Theatre's roof partially collapsed Friday, March 23, 2012. The building is at 721 East State Street in Rockford, Illinois has been vacant since about 2003.  Fortunately, no one was in the building during the collapse.

“We talked with the property owner and we ordered him to get some immediate shoring on the remaining trusses and get us an engineering report on the temporary shoring so we know it is done properly,” building code official Seth Sommer said. “Then, he will be working toward a permanent solution.”
Photo courtesy of Rockford Fire Department
Downtown architect and River District Association President Gary Anderson said the building is a historic Rockford landmark. Opened in 1918 with its signature 90-foot clock tower and curved stone facade, it serves as the eastern architectural gateway to downtown Rockford.  It is a building the Rockford Historic Preservation Commission was able to save, Anderson said, and it is listed among the city’s officially designated historic landmarks.

Although it was used as a movie house for many years, it was transformed into a community theatre, served as home to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, and used as office space and a TV production studio for a time.

Entering buildings that used to be, or might make a good production space is risky.  One of the first things most building owner's let-go is the roof's weather seal, and this can lead to rapid rotting and rusting of structural members and ceilings, particularly plaster ceilings. Other hazards in old building can include rotted flooring and stair wells, asbestos, and mold spores due to decaying fabrics, animal feces, and even animals.  A few minor holes into a building can allow pigeons, rats, and sometimes larger animals to infest the space, and that will accelerate the rate if decay.  Further dangers include blocked exit routes, so should an entry path become blocked, there may not be another way out.

Old buildings can be wonderful treasures to restore, and can bring economic revitalization to downtown areas, but until they have been inspected by professionals and the necessary steps taken to shore-up structural elements, seal roofs, and mitigate health hazards, don't go poking around in them.

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