The saga of Battle Creek’s iconic Binder Building took another turn this week as Judge Sarah Lincoln ordered the building demolished.  The triangular fieldstone building at 34 East Michigan Avenue was built as a slaughterhouse in 1900, but for the last 33 years, it has just been used to store the property of its owner, 81-year-old Bryant DeBolt.

DeBolt’s attorney, J. Thomas Shaeffer, says they need more time to get items out of the building, and if the city destroys it, Battle Creek could be on the hook for as much as $150,000 in damages. DeBolt is asking for another 60 days to get a few of the items out of the building.  The city has a demolition contract with a Lansing company for about $175,000.

In early September of 2019, signs of an internal collapse were observed, as the top two floors of the structure pancaked onto the floor below, causing the north wall of the building to crack and bulge.  A roof leak was the apparent cause of that failure, but DeBolt has denied that, saying that the collapse was not a result of neglect on his part.   The city fenced off the area around the building and posted warning signs to stay away, as demolition plans were initiated.

Local businesses were shut down temporarily amid safety concerns but were allowed to re-open a short time later.   The Historic District Commission gave the building a stay of execution in December of 2019.  In February of 2020, DeBolt tried to divest ownership to deflect the potential financial responsibility of removing the dilapidated building.   Judge Lincoln stopped that effort.

Following the recent ruling by Judge Lincoln, Debolt’s attorney is submitting a plan to remove about two dozen of the major items inside.  The city has said it is not safe to enter the building for any reason.  DeBolt says it is safe to get in and remove some of the items.   Estimates to save the building have been near $5 million, and there are no prospects to save it.

The north wall has crumbled more in the more than a year since the problems first came to light,.

Binder Building Sept 2019- Nov 2020-TSM Photo
Binder Building Sept 2019- Nov 2020-TSM Photo

DeBolt has spent a lifetime collecting historic Battle Creek artifacts and storing them there.  Originally, he held them at his antique store inside another historic building, Pump Arnold’s Place at 14 East State Street.  He was ordered to vacate that building when the city used eminent domain to pave the way for the new W.K. Kellogg Foundation building.  DeBolt then acquired the Binder building in 1987 and moved his artifacts there, including the bar from the “Gaslight”, which was also demolished in the Kellogg Foundation project.   Now, by order of the city, DeBolt can’t even get inside his building to rescue and relocate those artifacts.

Here are just a few of the items that are believed to be on the first level of the building:

  • A safe from the Security National Bank Building
  • A teller cage from the Security National Bank Building
  • A key safe from Grand Trunk Railroad
  • An egg-shaped safe from the Bank of Scotts that was designed to be burglar-proof.
  • The stone clock that was on one of the banks on Michigan Avenue.
  • The bar, tables, and light fixtures from the Gaslight Restaurant.
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