Historic Ocala store is demolished
Dec 26, 2012 (Ocala Star-Banner - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Members of the Costello family, a former city of Ocala mayor and two former city councilmen huddled under a shop awning across North Magnolia Avenue on Wednesday and watched under cloudy skies as excavators began the demolition of the Southern Plate Glass & Paint Co. building, closing the book on yet another chapter of Ocala's history.
"It provided for our family all of our lifetimes," Patricia Costello Laster said about the business begun in 1928 by her grandparents, Peter Paul Costello and his wife, Ruby Fausett Costello.
Laster's brother, Stephen Costello, a tiny tear resting on his cheek, also stood by as pieces of the building, where he worked every day after school, came crumbling down, locked in the jaws of a CAT excavator.
"I hate to see it go, but things change," Costello said. "It's wore out."
To renovate the building, which was built in the 1800s, to meet today's building codes and make it structurally sound was cost prohibitive. And the city gave the family a timeline in which it would help with the cost of demolition. The shop still had the original wiring, wallpaper border and crown molding.
The building was built at 343 N. Magnolia Ave. along what once was the city's main thoroughfare. The wooden shop, with its yellow brick face, had many lives: Ocala Bottling Company, a hotel, and then the Costello's grocery and furniture store which, eventually, became Southern Plate Glass & Paint Co., the place where Ocalans went to buy wallpaper, paint and glass for their homes and businesses.
Besides Laster and her brother, Stephen, Costello's wife, Heidi, and the couple's daughter, Kelly, were there snapping photographs to mark the end of the place where three generations' labored. Kelly Costello, great-granddaughter of Peter and Ruby Costello, already had videotaped the interior of the building for posterity.
Also on hand to kindle their memories of the building that was part of their youth were former Mayor Gerald Ergle and former City Councilman Michael Finn. They along with former City Councilman Michael Amsden watched the old building being torn down.
Marion County Tax Collector George Albright was there, too. Albright bought pieces of the building from the Costello family: two neon signs, the front door and the elevator.
"I am constructing a replica gas station and I am going to put the two neon signs inside in memory of Ocala's history and the Costello family," Albright said. "It's the end of the life of the building and also of the people that have come and gone."
While the building may be gone, the business is still alive with Laster's sister, Debbie Gates, operating the store down the street behind the Walton's Service Center.
Just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, the skies were cloudy and a storm was looming in the west. Michael Tharp, an employee of A&A Trucking & Excavating, said he would be operating the CAT excavator. Despite the threatening weather, he and the rest of the A&A crew were gearing up.
"We're going to do it," Tharp said.
Soon after, the work began on the south side of the building, with the onlookers gathered under the awning of Amsden's Sign Advisors shop across North Magnolia Avenue, watching intently.
Finn remembered Ruby Fausett Costello.
"She was a workaholic, and she never left work," Finn said.
He remembered that there was a television set near the front desk along with a reclining chair.
"She had a recliner by her desk and she would sleep in it," Finn said.
At 10:30 a.m. the excavator moved the equipment eastward toward the front of the shop, while water was sprayed to keep the dust level down. As the roof was pulled off, the brick wall at the front of the building teetered back and forth looking as if it would tumble into the street, but it stood tall, waiting for the second blow, which caved it inward. Three raccoons dashed out of the building and headed west across Magnolia Avenue. One critter circled back briefly, as if to take one last look or to recapture something left behind and then ran off with the others.
What surprised everyone, especially the workmen, was the sudden appearance from beneath the crumbling wood lath and the thick foot-wide Florida Heart Pine floor boards was a steel I-beam.
A while later the storm blew in bringing heavy rains that lasted about a half hour. As the weather cleared, the work resumed.
"As a young contractor, I did a lot of business with Southern Plate Glass. I remember Grandmother Costello at the front desk running the business," former Mayor Ergle said. "Although it is a time that has come and gone, you still hate to see it leave."
Amsden wondered aloud: "If these walls could talk, what do you think they would be saying "
He said the Costello's building was a "unique piece of history."
"It served Ocala and served Ocala well," Amsden said.
Amsden's wife, Sue, also was nostalgic about the building, which can be seen from the window of their sign shop across the street.
"We're going to miss it," Sue Amsden said. "We have been looking at that building for a long time. It's a sad day. We are seeing another piece of Ocala history go away, but I realize that building was old and tired."
Stephen Costello's wife, Heidi, shared some memories, too. When her parents moved to Ocala from Iowa years ago, they shopped in Southern Plate Glass and met the Costello family long before she met Stephen, who later became her husband.
"Ruby's picture always hung in that building," Heidi Costello said about the family matriarch. "Now it hangs in the new business over by Walton's."
After a while, family members and onlookers began to drift away. Laster left clutching a yellow brick from the shop, where her grandparents and parents labored. She also took with her the memories of a place where she and her sibling spent countless hours together, working in the family business and playing upstairs on the second floor, with its cozy hide-a-way places and open space that served as storage for the shop's inventory and yellowed business records.
"It's too bad, but it's time," Laster said. "The old just has to make way for the new."
Contact Susan Latham Carr at 867-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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