By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — The bricks on the 220-foot-high chimney in the middle of the Cardinal Shoes building will come down one by one over the next several months.
The bricks of the octagon chimney have been falling onto the roof of the 153-year-old building. Richard Bass, president and chief executive officer of Cardinal Shoes said he had to make a tough decision of reducing the height of the chimney at the suggestion of a structural engineer he hired. City inspectors and members of the Lawrence Fire Department had told him the chimney was in danger of collapse.
“What we’re doing is taking care of a situation that needed to be tended to,” Bass said. “We’re doing it for the safety of our employees.”
Bass said also at risk are the 1,100 solar panels on the roof installed in 2011 which could be damaged by the falling bricks. According to the company’s website, the panels generate 273,000 kilowatt hours per year saving it thousands of dollars.
“We are the largest solar powered ballet shoe factory in the world,” Bass boasted yesterday.
Corey Crane Company of Lowell, is removing the bricks from the chimney which was once part of a six-story building next to Cardinal Shoes. The building where the stack was located was imploded in the 1920s.
“We can’t use a wrecking ball because the chimney is right in the middle of the building,” said Steve Corey, owner of Corey Crane.
Cardinal Shoes was founded by Harry Bass and his brother-in-law, Alan Ornstein in the Everett Mills in 1969. They moved to its present location, the former Atlantic Enterprises building at 468 Canal St. in 1980 and continued manufacturing women’s shoes until 2000. The building was once part of the Pacific Mills. Today, Cardinal Shoe makes top-of-the line Gaynor Minden pointe ballet shoe and dance paws for barefoot dancing.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Bass said. “I’m sorry we have to come to this, but we have to do it to continue our business.”
Marie Sorensen, an architect with Sorensen Partners of Lawrence, is also sorry to see the chimney reduced.
“I absolutely see it as a loss,” Sorensen said. “You can’t call it anything but that. I think it’s unfortunate. If owners maintain them in a timely matter, it would not come down to this. It’s hard to maintain a chimney because it’s a novelty, not part of the operation,” said Sorensen, a board member of DOCOMONO, a non-profit group whose goal is protect endangered sites and buildings.
She said the government can help mill owners by providing them with incentives to preserve the historic buildings, especially in Lawrence which was founded as an industrial city
“We not just have to lament what happened, but keep it from happening again,” she said.
Susan Grabski, executive director of the Lawrence History Center understands the reason why Cardinal Shoes had to alter the height of the smoke stack, but is still bothered by it.
“Of course it bothered me. This is part of our industrial history and such structures should be preserved whenever possible,” she said.
Before starting the project, workers from Corey Crane cleaned the mill’s basement which was full of soot and debris. They will throw the bricks removed from the chimney there. He set up the crane on Wednesday and began the removal of bricks yesterday. One of his seven workers went on a yellow basket hoisted over the 220-foot chimney and using an electric and air chipping gun removed the cast iron cap covering the stack. Another worker was in the basement to collect the pieces in a bobcat, which were to be taken to a recycling center.
“This chimney is unusual and one of the prettiest because it has eight sides with details on top,” Corey said. He the stack has deteriorated because of the angle of the rain fall on the side of the chimney.
Despite having to reduce the size of the chimney, Bass told Mayor William Lantigua he was committed to staying in Lawrence.
“I’m not going anywhere. It’s not about the building, it’s about the wonderful people that work here,” he told the mayor. As he gave Lantigua a tour of the plant, he said 95 percent of his workers live in Lawrence. He introduced Lantigua to his employees some who have been with the company for 40 years and others who several family members work there, including Bass’ own three children.