Raisin' The Roof at Modesto's Tower Park

(BART AH YOU/bahyou@modbee.com)
Tower Park's water tower...lower half of tank is separated and lowered to the ground, Thursday afternoon.
March 22, 2012
(BART AH YOU/bahyou@modbee.com) Tower Park's water tower...lower half of tank is separated and lowered to the ground, Thursday afternoon. March 22, 2012 Modesto Bee

A demolition crew dismantled Modesto's water tower at 17th and G streets on Thursday, creating a spectacle for those people who came to watch.

Workers used torches and a 200-foot crane to take down the city-owned tower in sections during the 11-hour operation, which started before dawn.

After the crane was set up at Tower Park, several workers on the walkway 120 feet above ground hooked cables to holes drilled in the side and then cut off the top half of the tank.

As the crane lowered the 20,000-pound crown to the ground, people aimed their video cameras, and drivers stopped their cars on 17th Street to watch.

The lower half of the 29-foot diameter bowl came down by early afternoon. The seven-person crew then whittled down the steel legs before calling it a day.

Today, workers will remove what's left and cut the metal sections into pieces, so it can be trucked to a recycler.

Demolition worker Robert Castro, who took a torch to the tank's 3/8-inch steel, said it wasn't a job for someone afraid of heights. He said the workers on the catwalk wore safety harnesses.

"It was cool," Castro said, during a lunch break. "The view was beautiful in all directions. I like what I do."

The Tulare resident and employee for Fresno-based Pantano Demolition said he was chosen for the job because he's a specialist in lead removal — the many coats of paint on the tower built in 1919 contained lead.

Project Manager Dustin Drake of Pantano said the job went more slowly than expected. He estimated the dismantled pieces of the tower amounted to slightly less than 50,000 pounds of steel.

One recycler offered $270 per ton for the metal.

People such as Sandi and Bill Gordin came out to watch the demolition. Their twin 3-year-old granddaughters Kaylie and Sophia are animated by water towers, they explained.

"They talk about them all the time," Sandi said. "They liked this one because it's by grandpa's (accounting firm) office."

Retired truck driver Tony Iriqui said he came out "to see part of Modesto's history go down."

For 20 years, the 135-foot tower was a familiar sight on his route returning home from a job in Stockton.

Removing the tower will make way for a 48-unit affordable housing complex for seniors.

The 17th Street storage tower, built more than 90 years ago on the site of the city's first well, has not been used since the 1990s, when studies found it did not meet earthquake standards, said Deputy Public Works Director Allen Lagarbo.

Safety concerns were raised when young people and others climbed on the tower. In 1989, a distraught man teetered on the ladder and walkway of the tank for 2½ hours before he was rescued by emergency personnel.

Lagarbo recalled that owners of Casa de Fruita once made a pitch for the tower with an aim to enhance the visibility of the shops and fruit stands off Highway 152 near Hollister.

"They were not allowed to put up tall signs any more, but they could put up a water tower" with their name on it, Lagarbo said. "They decided it was too costly to take it down piece by piece and move it."

Modesto developer Peter Janopaul III, who bought the historic post office building on I Street, said the water tower was worth keeping. It could have served as a beacon for the housing complex or another project if the current one isn't developed.

"I'm really sorry to see it go," Janopaul said. "We will regret seeking these landmarks disappear if we don't think more creatively."

City staff said it is hard to fit the apartment project on the 0.8-acre Tower Park site. The project is going through planning and the two nonprofit developers are seeking additional funding.

There also is no plan to save an historic tree whose branches brushed against the water tower. What's known as the Clara Barton tree was planted by Civil War veterans in 1923 to honor the American Red Cross founder.

Although deodar cedars are known to live for 500 years or more in agreeable conditions, Lagarbo said officials are concerned the 70-foot tree would not survive an attempt to move it to a park.

Lagarbo is raising two seedlings from the Clara Barton tree for planting elsewhere in Modesto.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

Video from the demolition:

Video from scene at Tower Park in Modesto