A pile of rubble topped by an old neon sign and a stucco chimney were all that remained of the Alex Bar-B-Q building in Shell Beach on Tuesday — leaving behind a gaping hole and some unanswered questions as to why the landmark structure was suddenly torn down.
The building, which has stood on Shell Beach Road for more than 80 years, was almost entirely demolished as part of a renovation project to turn the structure into a new restaurant by Compass Health, Pismo Beach Community development Jeff Winklepleck confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
Winklepleck said the project’s contractors had permits to remove the tower from the building, but at about 10:30 on Tuesday morning, concerned residents notified the city that the entire building had been torn down instead.
“Obviously this is a big loss for the city,” Winklepleck said. “The big question is, ‘What do we do now?’ And the city is in the process of determining that, whether it be fines or something else.”
A stop order was issued for the project until the city could determine its next steps.
Compass Health representatives did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
Local historian Effie McDermott rushed to the site after hearing about the demolition while on the train back from San Diego Tuesday morning.
“It’s just a shock — it’s just a shock,” McDermott said as she looked at the pile of rubble that used to be the bar.
When asked if she had any happy memories in the building, blinking back tears, McDermott replied: “A lot of people do. A lot of eating and drinking and gathering went on at Alex’s.”
The building dates back to the 1930s, but it was named after its first notable owner, Alex Angelo, immigrated to the United States from Greece and purchased the building in 1943. It remained a bar and grill through 2014, when the building’s owner sold it to Compass Health.
The health company also owns several restaurants in the South County area, including Wooly’s Beach Bar and Grill and Ventana Grill, both in Pismo Beach.
Compass Health announced in August 2014 that it planned to put a new restaurant in that space sometime next year, but the project was delayed until the company got a coastal permit for some renovations in June. Those renovations included some minor changes to the property — but for the most part the original building was expected to remain in place.
On Monday, the contractor for the project contacted the city and notified them that the tower was structurally unsound and would have to be removed. City planners issued an emergency permit for that construction, Winklepleck said.
Winklepleck said he is not sure why the entire building was taken down, rather than just the tower.
“Whether it was just a matter of wires getting crossed somewhere, I don’t know,” he said. “We are trying to figure it out.”
McDermott said she didn’t know what would happen to the property now, though she did hope the incident would spur the city to take better stock of its historic buildings, and possibly set up some protections for them so similar things don’t happen again.
“You can’t bring back a dead building — you can only reconstruct it — so we shall see,” she said.
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