HANFORD — While the sounds of construction work filled the air, Diana Leoni stood near the intersection of Lacey Boulevard and Phillips Street and began creating a painting of the old fire station.
“It’s tearing my heart out to hear those sounds right now,” Leoni said of the work that was taking place near the back end of the station.
Despite efforts from citizens who wanted to save it, demolition of the old fire station began Tuesday morning.
“I am so sad. I am just so sad,” Leoni, a member of the Plein Aire Painters who was outspoken in her desire to preserve the building, said with tears in her eyes.
During the Dec. 19, 2017, meeting, Hanford City Council members voted in a 3-2 split decision to demolish the building for future expansion of recreational facilities. The old fire station, located at 404 W. Lacey Blvd., sits adjacent to the city pool, the Plunge.
Leoni and fellow Plein Aire painter Sharon Banister showed up at the Feb. 6 council meeting holding paintings of the old fire station, while others held signs that read “This place matters” over pictures of the station building.
Over a dozen spoke out against demolishing the building and implored the council to halt the demolition of the old fire station to reconsider options for saving it, but council members conveyed that they did not want to readdress the issue.
Several people The Sentinel talked to, including Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen, were under the impression that the work wouldn’t start until Wednesday, so they were taken aback Tuesday when they heard the demolition had started.
City Manager Darrel Pyle said the contractor, Bowen Engineering and Environmental, indicated they would start either Tuesday or Wednesday.
“[The building] should be down by Thursday, then cleanup will take another few days,” Pyle said in an email.
Pyle said the work is going from north to south, meaning demolition started at the back of the building and will move toward the front of the building that faces Lacey Boulevard.
Leoni said she decided to paint the building for the fourth week in a row before it’s gone. She couldn't bear to watch the demolition going on in the back and would paint as a way to heal.
She said there were plenty of ways the building could have been repurposed, and said it was “not acceptable” that the city was not transparent in its intention for the building and didn’t give the community time to figure out how to save it.
Main Street Hanford and its board were against demolishing the old fire station and even held a community meeting in January to discuss Direct Public Offerings as a way to raise funds to restore downtown buildings.
“Main Street Hanford is very saddened by the loss of the fire station,” Michelle Brown, executive director of Main Street Hanford, said in a statement. “We will always stand on the side of historic preservation because we believe our history tells an important story of who we are as a community.”
Sorensen said she voted against demolishing the building at the December meeting in order to give the community some time to figure out how they could save it. However, because she was in the minority on that decision, she did not have the power to ask that the issue be put back on the agenda.
“It’s sad that this old building is coming down,” Sorensen said. “My heart is breaking.”
Sorensen said the city has to make hard decisions, and the financial obligation to improve the building — which was estimated to be about $2 million — was just too much in the end. She said the city’s hands are tied because there is not enough money to do all the projects that people would like.
Leoni grew up in Hanford and was sentimental about its demolition because she said the building is a part of history and the foundation that makes up Hanford. She said she can only hope now that other historic downtown buildings will remain standing.
“Without our roots, we’re nothing,” Leoni said.
Brown said Main Street sees the beauty and the value in buildings like the fire station and will continue to promote the benefits of historic preservation.
“We will continue our research on Direct Public Offerings to see if we can prevent the loss of other historic buildings in downtown Hanford,” Brown said.