Spectators gathered Saturday afternoon as an operator inside a 2,900-ton crane crunched bites off the old bank building on Front Street in downtown Missoula.
"I should have brought my children. They would have loved it," said Chase Huber, who was picking up his wife from her Galusha, Higgins & Galusha office in the new First Interstate Bank building.
Huber was one of roughly 20 people watching hunks of brick, insulation and wood tumble to the ground. Demolition crews were razing the structure, the former home to businesses in the new adjacent bank building.
Jeff Dana said it was interesting to see the giant two-sided claw on the end of the crane, a "clamshell," do its work.
"Watch how this thing can just take bites," Dana said.
Gordon Construction foreman Eric Lathrop said demolition planning began Thursday with NorthWestern Energy, Frontier West and Knife River.
"We're just gonna take her down," he said.
Nearby power lines were turned off for the operation. Lathrop kept an eye on the northeast corner of the building as the crane operator munched toward it with the clamshell. His radio lit up.
"Eric. How is that corner looking?"
"It looks fine so far."
He said the main concern were the power lines because of the fiber optic cables. The team worked to get the building to crumble into itself, and when the wind blew a panel off the building, Lathrop alerted another crew member.
"You just had a chunk almost hit the power lines," he said.
Some 30 years ago, Kevin Gordon of Gordon Construction helped the architectural firm Fox, Ballas and Barrow design a new $1 million facade for the building. His father's company, Gordon Construction, submitted the low bid for the project, and Kevin Gordon went to work for the family business giving the building its new face.
On Saturday morning, Gordon was on site watching the soft Missoula bricks break away.
"It's kind of ironic that 30 years later, I'm tearing it down," Gordon said.
The building, which dates to 1908, had undergone many remodels. Lathrop said it was so old that another remodel wouldn't pencil out.
"It's more cost effective to just put up a green building," Lathrop said.
Earlier, crews removed environmentally dangerous substances, such as asbestos and Freon. They removed ballast in the light fixtures. A water truck sprayed the site as clouds of dust blew, but Lathrop said the material in the air was just mortar and not harmful.
Each morning and evening, Lathrop said someone sweeps the building to make sure a transient isn't sleeping in a corner. They did the same putting up the new building.
He said he expects to have trucks hauling material away from the site by Tuesday. Items such as steel will be separated and recycled.
The area was fenced off, but Front Street remained open to traffic. Lathrop said having the city close off a road takes a big effort because of concern for fire response.
He didn't have the total cost of demolition on hand Saturday. Lathrop also worked on the new First Interstate Bank building next door, and said there's satisfaction in both tearing down and building up.
Some seven to 10 people were on site throughout the day Saturday. Lathrop expected the demolition to be complete in three or four weeks.
Photographer Michael Gallacher contributed to this story.