Partially collapsed Webber Building has rich history - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Partially collapsed Webber Building has rich history

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
The partial collapse of a Montgomery landmark left many longtime residents and local history buffs stunned Thursday.

The historic Webber building dates back to before the Civil War.

Construction workers were working on renovations when they started to hear the mortar crack. The workers also saw falling bricks. That's when they made a split second decision to get out. No one was injured but the extensive damage left many wondering if the restoration project could continue and what the future of the building is now. 

It's called the Webber Building because in the early 1900's, it was home to Webber's Department store.

But it had an even richer history before that as Montgomery's first theater.

It opened in 1860, built by a railroad magnate, Charles Pollard. 

Marion Baab with the Landmarks Foundation, the leading historic preservation group in Montgomery, shed light on its past. 

"We know that female slaves helped with the construction of the building. They actually carried the brick and the mortar for the brick masons. It has a lot of history. John Wilkes Booth performed Shakespeare there. And it was built in the style that was very much the fashion at the time," she said. 

And it's where the Dixie score was written down for the first time. 

"The Montgomery band leader who was going to be playing the inauguration of Jefferson Davis had to write the tune and the lyrics on the walls of the building so his band could rehearse it. I think that was the beginning of that tune working its way in to the Southern soul," Baab added. 

In 1907, it closed as a theater and it was a department store until the 1990s.

The Montgomery Riverfront Development Foundation ended up purchasing the property and secured a grant for the building's stabilization through renovations.

Several years ago, David Payne, of Payne Lee & Associates Architects, bought the building with plans to redevelop the three-story structure, including a Momma Goldberg's restaurants, offices and apartments on the second and third floor. Work has been going on for several months. 

On Thursday afternoon, crews had just run out of the building before the corner collapsed. 

"It was a very historic building for the city of Montgomery and it still is. I don't want to say it was. I want to say it is and we plan to bring it back. I'm just so glad our men are safe," Payne said in an interview. 

"The city would hope that they can repair the section that's fallen and resume the renovations that they were undertaking. It's a historically significant building in downtown so we wouldn't want to lose it," added Montgomery Public Works Director Chris Conway.

Conway there was nothing in the history of the building that would have led officials to have any indication that it was unsafe. In this particular case, it was an active construction site, he said.

Structural engineers are examining the building to see if it's safe enough for renovations to continue. The owners say they're going to do everything they can to rebuild the corner and restore the building calling Thursday's events a "setback but not a complete disaster."

Parts of Perry and Monroe Streets are closed because of the collapse.

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