September 21, 2006

Liability concerns prompt changes at Eloise

Meghan Chatham
Staff Writer

The skyline along Michigan Avenue in Westland will change soon

as the smokestack identifying the collection of buildings as Eloise

ecomes only a memory.

The iconic smokestack at the Eloise hospital complex will soon be brought to the ground.

For decades, the complex served as a thriving city-within-a city that boasted a trolley stop, post office, powerhouse, police department, fire department, blacksmith, staff living quarters, and food production buildings.

Today, only a handful of buildings, including the smokestack atop the powerhouse, remain along Michigan Avenue near Merriman Road as reminders of the extensive and self-sufficient hospital, asylum, and shelter system known as Eloise. Parts of the system operated from the 1830s until the 1980s.

Citing safety concerns stemming from the ongoing deterioration of the 200-foot tall smokestack and the resulting falling bricks, Wayne County officials decided last month that it was time to tear down the smokestack.

According to Vanessa Denha-Garmo, press secretary for the Office of Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, county personnel have been monitoring the situation for the past few months. As crews assessed the situation, the area on the periphery of the smokestack was blocked off to help eliminate the risk of individuals being struck by falling brick.

Denha-Garmo said although the county respects the historic value of the smokestack, officials were also concerned that someone was going to get hurt.

“They believe it could be potentially unsafe,” she said. “You have to take into consideration the personal safety of the workers and of the residents of the area.”

Denha-Garmo also said that although county staff had explored other options, including preservation, they found that, “it just wasn’t feasible.” The possibility of removing only the part that is currently falling apart was also considered and vetoed, she said, due to the added cost and risk of allowing the situation to reoccur. To date, Denha-Garmo said that she wasn’t aware of any reports of injuries due to the falling bricks.

For Jo Johnson, chairperson of the Friends of Eloise, the change is bittersweet. She said that although she would have loved to see the smokestack preserved, she can understand, to an extent, with why the county opted not to spend that much money on preservation. She also acknowledged that even if steps had been taken to shore up the smokestack, it would only be a matter of time before water, the cold, and disuse again took their toll.

“To me, it’s a landmark and I’d like to see it stay, but I can see the county’s point of view,” said Johnson.

“I think it’s sad. I just wish something had been done 20 years ago.”

She added that, in addition to the workers and the residents of the nearby buildings who were concerned about the falling bricks, the attraction of the site for vandals and trespassers probably offered additional liability concerns for the county.

“You just can’t seem to keep them out of there,” she said.

Crews with Homrich Incorporated have already begun the demolition of the smokestack, a project that is expected to cost the county more than $120,000. The cost of the activity will be paid for using bond money, said Denha-Garmo.

“The top part—the part that was loose—is completely gone,” said Johnson.

The demolition is expected to take 45-60 days to complete, a timeline provides additional time to ensure that the smokestack can be demolished slowly and without damaging any of the surrounding buildings.

According to Johnson, the smokestack, which was built about 1924, measures 28 inches thick and 17 feet in diameter at the bottom and 8 and five-eighths inches thick and 12 feet 5 and a half inches in diameter at the top. It remains, for the most part, “very sturdy”, she said.