Bringing Down the Stock House

By Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

J. Harper Contractors put its recently acquired Kobelco SK480LC high-reach excavator to good use this winter to demolish a building in the historic Rainier Cold Storage complex in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood.

The complex was built in the first dozen years of the 20th Century as a brewery for the Seattle Brewing and Malting Co. At one time, it was the sixth largest brewery in the world, producing Rainier Beer by the keg. With the passage of prohibition laws, the brewery was converted to a cold-storage facility in 1916 and operated as such until it closed in 2003.

Sabey Corp. bought the 5.5-acre property in 2006 and is planning to develop it by preserving and upgrading four of the five buildings located there. The long years of cold-storage operation took their toll on the fifth building, The Stock House, however.

According to a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Stock House was built in 1903 to serve as a beer cellar, where the kegs could be stored at a temperature of 37 degrees. Its slab floor was not sufficiently insulated when the building was converted to cold storage, and over many years of operation at minus-12 degrees, the ground below the building froze to bedrock depth of 24 feet, causing severe heaving in the structure. When the cooling system was turned off in 2003, the thawing ground under the Stock House began to sink, causing further instability in the building. Inspections revealed that it was structurally unsound and in need of demolition.

One Brick at a Time

Sabey Corp., which is serving as its own general contractor for the Georgetown Brew House redevelopment project, hired J. Harper Contractors of Maple Valley, Wash., to demolish the Stock House. Jeff Slotta, vice president of J. Harper, said the building was four stories high and contained about 123,000 square feet of area. Its unreinforced exterior brick walls were up to 46 inches thick and stood a maximum of 65 feet tall, he added.

"For the most part, it was heavy wood frame and heavy concrete floors because it was designed to carry extra-heavy warehouse loads," Slotta said. "The building was in extremely poor condition, with settlement, bricks cracking and mortar that essentially was powder."

To handle the job, J. Harper brought in a large Kobelco SK480 LC excavator that has been converted for high-reach demolition operations. Fitted with a Jewell demolition front extended boom and stick, it features an 80-foot reach, plus a water line for dust suppression and a closed-circuit television camera to help the operator see what's happening at the business end. Other features include a tilt-up cab and 5-ton counterweight. Attachments include a pulverizer and a grapple by Jewell, plus a Stanley-LaBounty UP20 cracker/shears.

Work on the site began in January. A portion of the heavy demolition was completed over the three-day Martin Luther King weekend, so that adjacent Airport Way could be shut down for safety's sake in case a wall should collapse into the street.

"The unreinforced masonry made it extremely challenging," Slotta said. "The effects of the ground conditions of movement on the masonry created large cracks that led to the belief that the walls could come down at any minute."

"We needed to be very careful and use a skilled operator," he added. "Basically, we took it one brick at a time."

Power lines running along Airport Way within eight feet of the building posed another challenge. Though power was cut off, there still was a chance that falling debris could take out a pole or section of line, because the demolition work at the top of the building would take place 20 feet above them.

Though the street had been closed, that didn't stop the three taverns across the street from the job site from doing brisk business over the weekend. Late at night, crowds of close to 100 people would gather outside the taverns to watch the work, even cheering when a section of wall would come down, Slotta said.

Working 18-hour days, the crew completed its task without incident so Airport Way could be reopened at 2 a.m. on Tuesday.

New Markets Opened

Though there had been some opposition to the demolition project among the Georgetown neighbors during the planning stages, Slotta said there have been no complaints about noise, vibration or dust.

"I'm very pleased by that," he said.

Slotta said that a high percentage of the demolition debris by weight is being recycled, though the yield rate for wood hasn't been as high as was expected due to the large areas of dry rot. In addition, Sabey Corp. asked the demotion crew to keep feeding a pile of good bricks, located at a safe corner of the site, for the neighbors to pick up for free.

The project also validated a decision by Slotta and his business partner, Stan Kawamoto, to buy the high-reach Kobelco last year. Though their company had been in business for 15 years, prior to the purchase of the machine they were limited in the projects they could bid competitively.

"It has opened up markets over three stories to us," Slotta explained. "Before, we could do those jobs, but this machine cuts equipment and labor costs down on the job. It makes us competitive in the three-story market."

Slotta said his company chose to buy a Kobelco excavator for several reasons, not the least of which was because the price was competitive. The company also has a good relationship with Feenaughty Machinery Co., the Kobelco distributor in Portland, Slotta added.

Slotta expected to finish the Stock House demolition by the end of April. Sabey's plans call for redeveloping Georgetown Brew House over the next five years into a mixed-use property, with industrial, office and artists' space, plus possibly retail and residential as well. The remaining landmark four buildings will get structural upgrades, and a new building will go up in place of the Stock House.

"Our intent is to redevelop the project in a manner that is respectful to our current tenants and the surrounding neighborhood while protecting the re-emergence of this historic site," said Jim Harmon of Sabey Corp. in a recent Business Wire story.