Simon Homa looked out the window of his St. Florian Street home earlier this week, saw the wrecking crews and breathed a sigh of relief.
It was something he didn't dare do for almost two decades, otherwise he might take in too much of the foul stench billowing from the smokestack of a now-defunct processing plant that converted stale bread products into animal feed.
The three-building former Bakery Salvage Corp. operation on Chandler Street has been closed for more than two years now, but for Homa, just seeing the demolition crews arrive was enough to convince him that the long nightmare he and many other Black Rock residents have endured is finally over.
"From my kitchen window, I can still see the smokestack," Homa said today. "It'll be a relief when I can finally see that thing come down. The smell coming from that thing was absolutely unbelievable, a heavy acrid smell that overwhelmed everything."
In addition to complaints about the smell, the plant had been cited numerous times for building code violations. Finally, in May 1997, a judge gave the state attorney general's office permission to permanently shut down the plant after its operators allegedly violated an agreement they had with the state.
Since that time, North Common Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski said, the vacant complex had continued to deteriorate, becoming a breeding ground for rats and illegal dumping. In February, he and the rest of the Common Council asked city inspectors to study the possibility of demolishing the buildings.
At a hearing in March, a city building inspector recommended that the plant be torn down, saying it had suffered from fire damage and had unsound flooring and steel beams jutting from the side of one of its three buildings. The plant was hit by a fire in March 1997 that extensively damaged machinery.
"It was just a derelict piece of property," Zuchlewski said today. "And there was dumping going on there. In fact, the Street/Sanitation Department recently took 10 truckloads of debris out of there."
The property also was unsecured, encouraging vandals to further destroy the buildings and posing a hazard to neighborhood children who were attracted to play there, Zuchlewski added.
"Seeing this property come down is a relief to the whole neighborhood," he added. "I was afraid someone was going to get killed back there."
In fact, last November the badly charred body of a homicide victim was found near Conrail tracks a few yards northeast of the abandoned plant.
"I'm glad to see it finally coming down," said Lotti Rak, who lives one block over from the property on Grote Street.
"It's been a nuisance for an awfully long time. Now, at least, we can sit outside in our back yards and open our windows, whereas before you couldn't. You don't know what the smell was like unless you lived here," she added.
In May, 10, the plant at 125 Chandler St. was sold to Mancini Enterprises. It is unclear how that firm intends to use the property once the buildings are demolished.
Bakery Salvage had occupied the site since 1981. It previously was the site of a foundry.
In 1996, the operators of Bakery Salvage had proposed to move the plant to Lackawanna, but that idea was abandoned after Lackawanna lawmakers voiced their opposition to the proposal.
The demolition of the three buildings on Chandler Street should be completed by next week, according to Zuchlewski.