Darren Bradburn sees a sort of ghostly version of Wichita history.
His company, Bradburn Wrecking, has taken down some of the city’s most famous buildings.
But Bradburn can drive around town and, in his mind’s eye, see the former Allis Hotel, the Michigan and Lerners buildings, the Forum, Henry’s at Towne East Square, the Coleman Co.’s downtown factory, the original boathouse, Koch Oil by Century II, the Miller Theater, the Crest Theater, nearly every drive-in and hundreds of other commercial, industrial and residential buildings.
This week, Bradburn Wrecking will tackle another landmark: The Wichita Eagle building, which has stood at 825 E. Douglas since the early 1950s. Cargill will build an expansive new headquarters on the space.
As jobs go, it’s big – but not close to the biggest. It will easily fit in the 90 days allotted, Bradburn said.
Bradburn’s father, Kenneth, started the family business in 1959. Darren took over in 1992, when his father died of a stroke.
Darren Bradburn said he loves the work and hasn’t been in his office in three or four months. He drives right to the job site and usually runs the equipment himself.
There is a thrill to ripping down concrete walls – and not getting hurt in the process.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie when it comes to just pushing the edge of – what I won’t let my people do, I’ll do,” he said.
But he adds that his years of experience are critical to how he approaches the job.
“When I pull that brick wall out, I know how that building’s going to react,” he said. “I know how it’s going to react from doing two dozen ones just like it.”
Tearing down The Eagle
Bradburn outlined his plan for taking down the four-story Eagle building, 181,000 square feet of heavy concrete.
On Monday, after Eagle employees leave the building permanently, the work starts in earnest. The Eagle is moving to new digs at 330 N. Mead in Old Town Square.
In concept, taking down a building is pretty easy: Workers strip out everything except metal and concrete and then use big machines to pull down and break up the concrete and steel into small pieces. Then they haul it away.
Bradburn uses explosives very rarely, he said, and not unless the building is at least six stories tall.
Bradburn said that 95 percent of the Eagle building will be recycled. The concrete will likely find its way into future Wichita roadways. He makes no money off the recycled concrete, but it does save him millions of dollars in landfill fees.
On the other hand, he will get substantial recovery on the metal, particularly The Eagle’s massive presses and assembly machinery, its all-metal mezzanine and steel piers in the concrete structural columns.
To strip the building, he expects to lower skid steer loaders onto the roof to scrape up all of the rubber, wood, drywall, bricks, glass and tile. Then he will use a wrecking ball to punch a hole through the roof and push all the debris to the floor below. Then repeat on each floor.
When he gets to the first floor, the debris will just be pushed out the door to waiting bins.
When the building is a concrete shell, he expects to bust walls and columns into small chunks using a wrecking ball and excavators fitted with a claw suitable for taking bites out of concrete. The concrete and metal are separated and reduced to small chunks by brute force.
One of the touchiest parts? Demolishing the four-story wall facing Douglas. Bradburn said it will mean a 140,000-pound crane sitting on Douglas, a 5,000-pound wrecking ball and an operator with terrific fine-motor skills to keep all that concrete out of the street.
“It’s a big management process. … After all these years, I can just look at it and know what we have to do,” he said.
Bradburn isn’t sentimental about the buildings he tears down. In fact, he’s been accused in the past of taking joy in wrecking buildings.
He doesn’t, he said, but he obviously takes great satisfaction in his craft.
“I’ve been all over the world,” he said. “And in every single place I go – love Las Vegas because they have bigger buildings, love New York, great big buildings – I love to look at them and think: How am I going to bring that down?”
Bradburn landed in the middle of controversy when he got the contract to take down the once-grand Allis Hotel in 1996. The city of Wichita voted to raze the derelict downtown building despite a passionate effort by preservationists to save it.
Attorney Greg Kite was one of them. Today, he said, he doesn’t bear Bradburn any personal ill will.
“Darren contracts to do a job, and you really can’t fault him for taking down a historical structure that I have a true love for,” Kite said. “The problem isn’t with the contractor but with the owner.”
Bradburn said that since the Allis came down, he has learned to allow those with feelings about a building a little time to grieve, whether they be office workers or preservationists, and to take some mementos with them.
Kite said Bradburn’s crew saved a portion of the decorative facade of the Michigan Building for preservation. The company recently removed four concrete friezes from the front of The Eagle for safekeeping.
Sometimes, Bradburn Wrecking is hired to strip the inside of a building in order to facilitate a renovation. His crews did that in the Exchange Place and Bitting buildings, which became The Douglas apartments.
Whether it’s tearing down – or just stripping down – a building, it’s necessary to re-use the property.
He recalled his crews stripping the interior of the Douglas Building, 104 S. Broadway, to the walls in 2011. Today, it’s The Ambassador Hotel.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “We left it (and) it looked pretty bad, bare concrete, and they made it beautiful.
“It’s a nice moment to feel like you are part of it.”