Long Center Razing Begins

Demolition is under way at the former Gene Long Community Center, a 145-year-old Wheeling Island landmark beloved by some for the reminder of the Ohio River’s might scrawled on its outer walls.

Crews with Edgco Inc. of Lansing were on site Tuesday at the corner of Virginia and South Penn streets, making preparations to begin razing the structure. Most of its windows have been removed, and mounds of dirt surround the structure.

Workers at the site said they expected the building would be on the ground by Friday.

The structure has been vacant for years, and Long’s family deeded the property to the city prior to his death in February 2011. Safety concerns surrounding the building came to the forefront in early 2013 when bricks began falling onto the sidewalk. Following an unsuccessful attempt to find a buyer for the building, City Council in December voted to spend about $27,000 to tear it down.

The building’s most notable feature is the “flood wall” at its southeast corner, on which Long recorded the high water marks from generations of floods on the island, including “The Big One” on March 19, 1936, when the Ohio River reached 55.5 feet.

Bill Seabright, who has called Wheeling Island home for more than 70 years, recalls the building’s former incarnation as a drugstore and grocery where he’d often go to enjoy a milkshake or peruse the latest issues of his favorite comic books. He also fondly remembers accompanying his grandfather into the building on Sundays and “pretending to help” him clean the upstairs bar.

It was a different time, Seabright said, when an enterprising young man could make a little spare change by dropping in and offering to deliver a prescription to a customer.

“You made yourself 15, 20 cents and thought you had a lot of money in your pocket,” he said.

Despite all the memories, Seabright can’t say he’s sorry he’ll no longer see the bright pink and blue walls each time he steps onto his front porch.

“It’s become an eyesore. … It’s sad, you know. It’s just outlived its need,” he said.

Local chef and restaurateur James Burress said he attempted to purchase the building from the Long family about five years ago so he and a partner could open a restaurant and coffee shop there.

“I offered them $17,000, and they wouldn’t sell it,” he said, adding he plans to approach city officials about operating a food trailer on the corner after the building is removed.