Memories and Reflections, as 420 Main Implosion Nears
The countdown is on for Sunday morning’s implosion of the 420 Main Street Tower in Downtown Evansville. WNIN’s John Gibson spoke with several people ahead of the event:
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke announced the implosion date back in August. He reflected on the upcoming change to the city’s skyline.
"I mean I've thought a lot about it. Recently, I was coming back to the office and I was coming along I-69 to Veterans Parkway and you can see it from 41 and I-69. And on November 22nd, I won't be able to have that same sight."
But Winnecke said there was no saving the 18-story tower.
"In a city this size, you know, building a new 18-story building is just not very realistic in this economy."
Phillip R. Hooper of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services shared some mixed feelings about the impending loss of the city’s tallest building.
"I'm sad for the loss of the architecture, I'm sad for the loss of the history and people's memories there in that space. But I am tremendously excited for the impact it's going to have on the downtown neighborhood, with that many more residents and that more commercial space and a development that truly represents and respects the street from a urban planning perspective.
And Hooper agreed that Evansville is not a city for skyscrapers.
"We have plenty of parking lots that could get redeveloped. If you look at a map of downtown's parking lots, there's a lot of development that doesn't need to go vertical here."
Attorney Neil Chapman was one of the last tenants in the former Old National Bank tower. He says the building could have been saved.
"Partly because the owners were very conservative and they didn't want to, I guess from their perspective, they didn't want to throw good money after bad. They were penny-wise and pound-foolish. And so, over the years we just saw it neglected."
Chapman wishes the city had invested in the tower years ago.
Had the city recognized this trajectory of the building which was what's happening the inevitable decline, they could have invested in it and turned it perhaps into a city hall. I think it would have made an extraordinary city hall -- mayor's office at the top.
One of the first tenants in the tower back in 1970 was Lukens (LOO-kins) and Sons Insurance. Harry Lukens owned the company, which was housed on the 14th floor of the former Old National tower before moving up to the 17th floor.
Lukens’ daughter, Laura Spillman, had fond memories of her late dad’s office…
"The office on the 17th floor was very grand. It had a fireplace, it had its own bathroom, a lot of woodwork."
Spillman remembers watching Fourth-of-July fireworks from the building as well as special events in the top-floor Petroleum Club.
"Many birthday celebrations up there. I think I ate there before my senior prom. So any kind of, you know, big celebration was always done at the Petroleum Club."
Like many Evansville residents, Spillman says she’s sorry to see the tower go. She's been taking some photos for keepsakes.
"I think my dad would be really sad to see that it was going down. I have obviously a lot of great memories there. It's a piece of my childhood so I do feel like a piece of my childhood is going down with the building."
Another Evansville woman, Sue Morrison, says her late father, Harry E. Thompson, was tasked with negotiating with property owners to acquire land for the Old National Bank tower in the 1960’s.
She said there was one elderly property owner who was holding out, so her father offered him a 99-year lease.
"But the proviso was that should he die before the lease term was out, then that property would become part of the Old National land."
Morrison said her dad faced questions about the deal from the Old National brass.
“He said to them do you think this owner is going to live another 99 years? Do you think this building will last another 99 years?
The holdout property owner eventually passed away, clearing the way for construction of the 18-story tower.
Domo Development plans a six-story commercial-residential development on the site of the tower and the already demolished Sycamore Building.
As Mayor Winnecke told me: