B y Serena Kovalosky
For many who drove down Williams Street in Whitehall last week, the pile of rubble next door to the library was a surprise. It was all that was left of a long-vacant building situated between the library and the Tarantino building, formerly Marion’s Dress Shop.
“You could see the dust from Historic Grounds,” said village and town historian Carol Senecal as she came out of the restaurant with her husband, Wayne, while the demolition took place. “When we drove over to see what was happening, the back of the building was already gone. You could see right through it.”
“It was quite a shock,” she said.
The three-story building, at 8 Williams St., was owned by the Kingsley family for decades. For Frank Kingsley, watching the building come down was particularly emotional. Even though he lived across the street, Kingsley was unaware that the building was slated to be torn down.
“That’s where we grew up,” said Kingsley, who lived there as a child in the 30s. “You could see where our bedrooms were as it came down.”
The owner, Eli Schulman, had the building demolished because of extensive damage that had compromised its integrity over the years.
“It was the safest thing to do,” said Mayor Ken Bartholomew.
Purchasing the building seemed like a good opportunity to Schulman in the early eighties.
“It had so much history,” Schulman said. “The third floor was a story-and-a-half that was filled with boxes of paperwork from the 1800s with business records and correspondence in beautiful handwriting.”
The Whitehall Historical Society has a few of the building’s old business records dated 1901 from S.K. Griswold Dry Goods and Groceries.
Kingsley said there was a tire store and a gas station there in the 30s and the ground floor was later home to Busteed’s Market.
Schulman had his dental office in the building in the 80s and 90s. He retired from his practice in 2000 with plans to rent out the location.
But the local economy had already started to falter and the space remained vacant.
Time passed, and a particularly severe winter with heavy snowfall caused damage to the building’s substructure, due to the weight of the snow on the building’s flat roof.
“The cost to repair it was astronomical,” said Schulman. “The expense versus the return just wasn’t viable.”
There were numerous discussions throughout the years with the Isaac C. Griswold Library, which was considering an expansion. Most recently, Schulman also contacted the village to see if it was interested in the building, but in both cases, money to repair and maintain the building, or to have it demolished, was the biggest issue.
“It would have needed a complete rehab,” Schulman said.
“I would be sad every time I’d see a building in Whitehall go down,” said Schulman. “And here I am today, in the same boat.”
Taking the building down was costly and Schulman learned that demolitions are not a simple matter.
“The county has a stringent set of requirements that must be met before any building is destroyed, and there had to be compliance with the power company in disconnecting electrical wires as well as the water department,” he said.
Schulman still owns the lot that look out over the canal and expects to sell it at some point. But he regrets having to tear down the building.
“It was a sad, bittersweet moment,” he said.

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