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Century-old building under Sellwood Bridge vanishes

DELICATELY DISMANTLED
by: David F. Ashton Behind the claw is the first glimpse of the hidden Sellwood Bridge pier, since it was built through the building to support the bridge in 1925.

It wasn't a magician's illusion - nor did it happen quickly or quietly - but the century-old Mela Building at 380 S.E. Spokane Street is now gone.

This structure, the unique building that had an east-side Sellwood Bridge pier running down through it, was purchased by Multnomah County to demolish, to make way for rebuilding the bridge.

Once a part of the East Side Lumber Mill yard, the deconstructed building had undergone many remodels since it reopened in 1909 as the Oregon Door Company.

'This is the first time, in 85 years,' said the county's bridge project spokesman, Michael Pullen, 'that these east end bridge columns have been visible.'

We watched as the operator of a Caterpillar 330CL used its claw and jaw to chew into the structure and pull out debris for removal. When the operator dislodged a salvageable timber, he delicately grasped it, and deposited the beam where workers could place it at the side of the yard.

Pullen pointed out water pipes that are affixed to the bottom of the bridge deck, and above the building - hidden from view for all many years. 'Those were part of a fire suppression system put in by the County after they built the bridge. The sprinkler system was designed to put out any fire below, so it would not damage our bridge.'

THE BEE watched as the big deconstructing claw took another mighty chomp out of the building. The remaining structure shook and shuddered. Before long, a very large rectangular piece of concrete toppled over onto its side - it was the building's two-story safe, which once held the East Side Lumber Mill's cash payroll.

The deconstruction project took about four weeks; Pullen said the process slowed at the end of September, when workers encountered - and then carefully removed - asbestos in the building. That took about ten days, after which the crew began ripping the building apart in earnest.

And now, a century-old and very historic Sellwood building is a mere memory.