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Feb 23

The leaning San Luis Obispo water tower, when demolitions go awry

The old General Fireproofing water tower is demolished. The 100,000-gallon tower was located off of Southwood Drive in San Luis Obispo. ©The Tribune/Wayne Nicholls

Though the moment was fleeting, San Luis Obispo could have been mentioned in the same breath as Pisa, Italy. For a few hours in the summer of 1980, a failed demolition attempt gave the town a leaning water tower.
There is nothing like high explosives and an defunct relic to make a good picture.

The story from August 1, 1980

Grand afternoon for a demolition

By Carl Neiburger
Staff Writer
It was a festive afternoon Thursday for scores of people who had gathered along Southwood Drive in San Luis Obispo to look expectantly at the old General Fireproofing water tower.
It was a frustrating afternoon for demolitions expert Mel Cotter.
Cotter has been doing demolition work — blowing up buildings and bridges — since 1939. This summer he had knocked out 1,200 feet of diversion dam in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
He was foiled twice Wednesday morning by the 80-foot, 100,000-gallontower, a relatively puny job.
New World Investments, which owns the tower and property it stands on, hired Cotter to demolish the tower.
Cliff Branch, a partner in New World, said the tank was coming down to comply with city requirements before the land it was on could be developed. New World doesn’t have firm plans for the land but might build condominiums, he said.
Cotter and other employees of Tantra Construction Co. of Pleasanton had first used welding torches to cut gashes in two of the tower’s four 2-foot-wide tubular steel legs. Cotter set charges around the other two legs.
When detonated the charges neatly carved 6-foot-long sections out of the legs. The tower rocked forward, but then stuck, nearly upright, its severed front legs balanced on the remains of their supports.
The demolition worker next used torches to cut the bolts which held the rear legs to their foundations. The tower moved a couple inches further forward but remained standing.
The tower’s center of gravity was too far back, Cotter explained.
Finally, at 5:20 p.m., new charges were in place on the front legs and a crowd of employees outside the adjacent Vetter Corp. were chanting, “Go, go, go.”
As onlookers swarmed around the remains of the tower, New World partner John King handed out beer to friends and associates to celebrate.
Cotter said that though the water tower had been an unusually frustrating job, it hadn’t been the worst.
“We had one in Louisiana that went over backwards,” he said.

Related posts:

  1. San Luis Obispo Map, 1941
  2. San Luis Obispo Roundhouse
  3. San Luis Obispo Gasworks
  4. Salinas Dam water tunnel completed under Cuesta Grade, World War II week by week
  5. Cruisin’ San Luis Obispo ends, the birth of Farmer’s Market