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Historic St. Augustine tavern demolished

Public safety cited in waiver from Historic Architectural Review Board

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A historic building on St. George Street that has housed the Milltop Tavern for a generation is being torn down because its advanced state of deterioration is considered a safety issue.

The St. Augustine's Historic Architectural Review Board granted a certificate of demolition, and City Manager John Regan granted a waiver for the 31-day waiting period because the city's building department, and the project's structural engineer consider the building unsafe.

“We found that the wood was decayed -- termite-eaten beyond repair," general contractor Steven Binninger said.

DOCUMENTS: Certificate of demolition and supporting reports

Binninger is not only the contractor. The building has been in his wife's family for 75 years.

“My wife grew up selling lemonade here from this corner with her brothers and her sisters, so it was not a good feeling to see the building come down," Binninger said. "It was her desire and her family’s desire to see this building restored.”

The building, portions of which date back to 1888, was under rehabilitation when the extent of deterioration was discovered. They said it was in such bad shape, even a strong thunderstorm could cause it to collapse.

Demolition began Monday, and by Wednesday morning, the building's iconic waterwheel and coquina base, the backdrop of thousands of photographs, were all that remained.

People in the historic district, used to preservation and restoration efforts, were surprised to see an old building torn down.

Missy Gibson, a sales assistant, who has been watching the building come down, has been answering lots of questions from customers.

"Where is it going? Why are they tearing it down?" Gibson said people were asking. "They are going to rebuild it. It’s going to be nice. But right now, it’s kind of sad watching it go down.”

Binninger said the new building will be exactly the same as the old one, except the exterior will be wood rather than stucco.

The plan is to reopen the Milltop Tavern in the rebuilt building in November, but an archeological dig scheduled to start next week, looking for anything historically significant on the property, could delay the process.