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After Massive Warehouse Fire, Demolition Slogs On

By Casey Cora | February 28, 2013 6:25am | Updated on February 28, 2013 10:37am

MCKINLEY PARK — Safety is the name of the game as the teardown of a fire-ravaged warehouse on Ashland Avenue continues.

"There was a railroad track through the center of the building. Underneath that was a tunnel. You've got to make sure you're on stable ground and you don't have a machine on top of a tunnel," said Martin McDonagh, co-owner of the Naperville-based Ground Crew demolition outfit handling the teardown.

The building at 3757 S. Ashland Ave., once home to a furniture builder and lamp company, was part of the Central Manufacturing District, a plot of warehouses and factories situated in the middle of the city that drew thousands of workers each day. Many of the buildings were built with rail tracks running through for easy access to raw materials and freight.

The area is now being eyed for a drastic overhaul that could include big-box retail development.

The building, which is owned by Calvin Boender, a developer jailed for attempting to bribe Ald. Isaac Carothers, caught fire Jan. 22, prompting one of the largest fire responses in the city's history and sending smoke into the nearby neighborhoods for weeks.

Authorities have not released the cause of the fire but haven't ruled out arson. The Chicago Fire Department's bomb and arson unit could not be reached for comment.

The crew of roughly a dozen workers expected to finish the demolition job within two months after work began in January. But McDonagh said they'll now be there until the end of April.

"Because everything fell on top of one another, we're trying to pick through as much as we can and recycle as much as we can. Some of the lumber we'll recycle and some of the brick and steel," he said.