Hospital vanishes into concrete dust

An excavator is used to move dirt at the old St. Anthony Hospital demolition site Wednesday as the project nears completion in Pendleton.

For months, excavators chomped into the old St. Anthony Hospital, bringing the structure down one bite at a time.

Demolition at the site is almost complete. The hulking old hospital on Southeast Court has been reduced to heaps of concrete waiting to be pulverized.

“The buildings are gone,” said Project Manager Jeff James of Northwest Demolition and Dismantling. “We are in the process of digging up foundations and crushing concrete.”

The demolition started mid-summer after the opening of a new $70 million medical center on Highway 395 in December of 2013. The dismantling required no explosives. Designed to cut through steel beams, an excavator attachment called a hydraulic shear was the weapon of choice.

Workers began by removing materials considered hazardous, such as floor tiles, pipe insulation, caulking and adhesives that contain asbestos, plus hundreds of fluorescent lights. Metal was recycled. Anything else not brick or concrete went to the landfill. Workers are filing basements with crushed concrete that will remain on site.

“Northwest Demolition stayed on schedule,” said St. Anthony CEO Harry Geller. “They did a good job.”

Geller said workers will smooth and contour the land, sloping gently up to Court Avenue, which is a state highway. The Oregon Department of Transportation plans to remove a pedestrian crossing and traffic light adjacent to the old hospital, barring any public concern that might arise during a two-week public comment period that started Monday. Geller said St. Anthony, which is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives, will eventually sell the parcel of land. He said the fate of a medical office building still at the site is undecided.

The demolition, which cost $2.6 million, has inspired some sentimentality around town. Many Pendleton residents were born at the 102-year-old hospital, which includes structures of three different vintages. These buildings weren’t the first to rise and fall on the property.

One of them, St. Joseph’s Academy, known affectionately to students as “St. Joe,” sat at the site of what later became the hospital parking lot. The school closed in 1974 and met the wrecking ball soon after. The original 1887 academy had gone up in flames during an early-morning fire in 1956. The blaze lit up the night, burning 18 pianos and precious artwork. A lone nun sleeping inside made it out alive.

St. Anthony’s original building also disappeared years ago. The place of healing was the dream of nuns who raised $75,000 to fund a hospital that was dedicated in 1902. A school of nursing opened there in 1909, and later, more wings and buildings were added to the hospital. The original hospital structure was demolished in 1962.

The land now stands empty save the six-member crew there that is crushing concrete.

“We pulling up concrete, putting it in a crusher and spreading it out,” James said. “It’ll be done by the end of the month.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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