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Demolition of old Ford building clears the way for new J&B store

In the end it didn't even need a wrecking ball. One pull of an excavator claw sent the old Ford dealership in Park Rapids crumbling down with barely a whimper.

Don Wilkins watched early Sunday morning as clouds of dust, bats and pigeons flew into the sky.

"I've learned to stand downwind of these things," he said as a huge cloud of dust, soot and minuscule building particles seeped north.

The home of Wilkins' boyhood friend, Fred Valentine, had just been razed to make way for a new J&B Foods store on South Highway 71 in Park Rapids.

Construction crews from Ralph V. Sanquist Construction, Inc., began preparations for the demolition well before dawn Sunday, and even though the event was supposed to be a closely guarded secret, crowds started assembling just after 5 a.m. to watch the demolition.

"Valentines operated the Ford garage and old gas station," Wilkins said. "They lived in the front half of the second floor and had cars in the back half. There was an elevator to move the cars up to the second floor. The old garage was under their home in the front end."

The brick building has fallen on hard times. It has been home to an indoor skating arena, the license bureau and other businesses since 1978, when the Ford dealership, which had by then changed hands several times, moved south on Highway 71.

The building is believed to have been built around 1917. At the time Tom Wilson, owner of Wilson's garage, moved in. Wilson sold the Ford/Mercury dealership to Charlie Valentine in 1928.

Valentine changed the name to Parkway Motors. It changed hands four times before vacating the downtown location.

Wilkins said he was photographing the demolition for several of his old classmates and former residents of the area. Fred Valentine died about a year ago, Wilkins said.

The building took workers, using two large excavators on the east and west sides, and other smaller pieces of equipment, only two hours to demolish. The site cleanup will take longer. Crews Monday morning were picking up piles of rubble.

Bob Hensel, part-owner of J&B Foods, said dirt work for the new building is scheduled to start in about two weeks. The project has not been bid yet, so work will commence once the owners have had a chance to line up a contractor.