Owner asks court to halt city demolition of East St. Louis historic landmark

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EAST ST. LOUIS, Illinois — The owner of a historic East St. Louis building that's fallen into disrepair has filed a temporary restraining order seeking to halt the property's demolition by the city.

Kimberly Williams, 36, bought the six-story, 106-year-old Murphy Building a decade ago for $700 at a county tax auction but has been unable to complete a planned $7 million retail and residential project in her struggling hometown.

She filed the legal request late Wednesday in St. Clair County Circuit Court, even as a wrecking crew had already begun dismantling the Beaux Arts office building with a crumbling rear facade and tree branches poking out of its roof and side windows.

"This breaks my heart to see this," she said as workers painstakingly removed bricks by hand to avoid damaging the adjacent Majestic Theater, another endangered historic building. The preservation group Landmarks Illinois recently listed the Murphy Building on its annual list of the state's most threatened historic sites.

The city is using $440,000 in tax increment financing to tear down the building. East St. Louis officials call the property an eyesore and safety hazard and say they have tried unsuccessfully to work with Williams for years.

"It's a huge hazard," said city attorney Mike Wagner. "We've been in negotiations with her for quite some time."

Echoing Wagner's account, City Manager Deletra Hudson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Williams was served with a court order about the demolition.

"Like the rest of the city, I have a lot of admiration for the Murphy Building," Hudson said. "But we can't let the entire back fall off a building and do nothing about it while claiming that we'll just wait another 10 years to see what happens. That is unrealistic."

Williams described the court order as only a "notice to respond" and said her efforts to communicate with the city have been stymied. She said she could repair the rear facade, which is visible to passing passengers on the region's MetroLink commuter trains, for half the amount being spent by the city on the tear down.

A hearing on the request is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.


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