DECATUR — As the sun rose Wednesday morning, portions of the Walrus Manufacturing Co. warehouse were in rubble near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Wabash Avenue. By the afternoon, demolition crews had taken down the northwest corner of the four-story warehouse dating to the early 1900s.
The fate of the rest of the building remains in doubt.
“The roof is not in good shape, but the rest of the building is in pretty good condition, better condition than what we thought,” Kim Aukamp, the daughter of the building’s owner, John C. Ballog, said after consulting with engineers. “Some of the walls need some attention fairly quickly.”
Decatur firefighters were called to the scene Tuesday afternoon to a report of an exterior wall crumbling. The discovery led to the closing of roads, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Electricity to some 120 Ameren customers also was disrupted when poles were damage by falling debris during the Wednesdays' demolition.
“They’re hoping that they will be able to go to an area that’s stable, so they don’t have to tear the entire building down,” Aukamp said.
With the future still uncertain, the owners hope to be able to remove some of the items currently being stored in the four-story building.
“But we don’t have big plans,” Aukamp said. “We’ll just have to see how the building holds up.”
Near busy train line
When the building’s wall began to fall on Tuesday, a few items were seen hanging from the holes.
The building is a warehouse for office furniture and miscellaneous items, including a couple fire engines. The repairs to the building will be more extensive than the building’s worth, according to Aukamp.
“In today’s market, buildings around town are just not very valuable,” she said. “We’ll probably do repairs to enough of it to be able to safely get items out of it.”
The building is near a busy train line. While the firefighters attended to the scene on Tuesday, four trains passed by, according to Deputy Fire Chief Jim Ohl.
“We had advised the railroad of what’s going on, just so they were aware,” he said. “But we did not request that they stop train traffic. We’ll do that if necessary.”
The train traffic was not in imminent danger, according to Ohl, due to the location of the structural damage. The broken pieces are falling from the north side of the building. Train traffic is on the south side.
Decatur’s Director of Economic and Community Development, Cordaryl “Pat” Patrick, said the city’s first response is to ensure the nearby neighborhoods are protected and safe from falling debris. Since the damage was found, they have been working with the owner to secure the building.
“It is disappointing to see a historic building in the city of Decatur fall into disrepair,” Patrick said.
“The owner has been very cooperative and responsive so we believe this will be resolved in a timely fashion," Patrick said. "Our goal is to make sure this is done safely in a way that does not release environmental hazards into the atmosphere and get the roads reopened.”
Built in 1904
On Tuesday, the Walrus Manufacturing building was listed as an active housing case, according to Decatur's City Code Enforcement Database. “It is designed to allow the city to take any further actions on this private property if needed,” Patrick said. “We have staff on scene currently working hand-in-glove with the owner, demolition contractor and engineers.”
In 2020, the building was listed by the History of the Heartland as one of the "Top Eight Most Endangered Non-residential Structures List."
The structure was built in 1904. Robert Faries began the Walrus Manufacturing Company, building and installing equipment for soda fountains used in drug stores throughout the country.
By the 1950s, the industry had changed, leading the Walrus Manufacturing Company to change products, such as making coffins. After Walrus Manufacturing closed, the building was filled by Cash Acme, the successor to A.W. Cash Valve.
Archives: Decatur's Walrus Manufacturing Co.
Walrus Mfg. Co. building
St. Louis union station soda fountain
Soda fountain in T. T. Springer's store
Walrus advertisement in Herald & Review
People's Furniture Co.
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Walrus Manufacturing Co. 1906
Walrus Manufacturing Co. 1950
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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR