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Metropolitan fall of the Hall of Justice

37-year-old building finally tumbles down

It took several tries and several hours, but the stubborn and sturdy Metropolitan Hall of Justice finally tumbled to the ground Saturday in a giant cloud of dust.

The 37-year-old building in downtown Salt Lake City may have appeared precariously balanced on stilt-like beams, but it proved tougher than it looked. Two giant backhoes and a Caterpillar pulling a total of four cables couldn't yank the thing down — at least not at first.

First, one cable snapped and then another. Crews mounted a second effort to knock the structure into a waiting hole. "The second time they found the column that was the culprit," said Capt. Barry Bonham of the Salt Lake City Fire Department, adding that emergency personnel were concerned about the safety of the demolition crews, but no one was hurt.

"The second time, demolition crews went in and hooked (a cable) up again and pulled in two different directions. They pulled the column to the south while the rest of the building went north," Bonham said.

That did the trick, and the building first began to lean almost imperceptibly to one side, then crashed at 12:30 p.m. — four hours after it was supposed to come down.

"Good," said Josef Horgos, 3, who watched the building tumble with his brother Petr, 2, and dad, Tom.

"It's pretty spectacular," Tom Horgos said.

The demolition crews had been hard at work since the wee hours weakening metal beams with blow torches before the first demolition attempt originally scheduled for 8:30 a.m.

Crowds braved the early morning chill and surrounded the building, on 300 East between 400 and 500 South, although the numbers dwindled as time went on.

LuAnne Gustafson of Sandy was on hand early with her husband and five children. "It's more interesting to watch in person than to see it on the news."

Lucille Jones said she overheard one man talking about wanting to see the building destroyed "because it was his old home," an apparent reference to the jail cells the Hall of Justice complex formerly housed.

Maria Hernandez and her niece, Jasmine Montoya, 7, came the previous Sunday, but that demolition plan was scrapped because of heavy winds. This time crews scheduled the demolition for Saturday, leaving Sunday as a fallback day in case the weather didn't cooperate.

Dennis Cowlishaw and his son, Gordon, said they just wanted to hear the building drop but were disappointed that explosives weren't being used.

Dahna Chaitanya, who works in technical services in the nearby public library, said the elimination of that building paves the way for exciting new changes for the library block. "It symbolizes the dropping away of the old thought forms and unnecessary structures so we can enter a new millennium," she said.

On a practical level, it means she and her co-workers will enjoy a beautiful new work space with more room and a view of the Wasatch Mountains — and library patrons will benefit from easier parking and greater accessibility to library materials.

Vernice Robinson, another library employee, said she also wanted the old building down. "It's an eyesore. It will be neat to see this block completely transformed."