Check out photos of the implosion in our slideshow.
On the chilly morning of December 19th, 2010, people from around the region gathered to watch as the de-facto face of Sugar Land was changed forever. An implosion of two buildings of the former Imperial Sugar refinery was scheduled for seven in the morning - the white furnace building next to the char house, and the red bin building to the north of the char house.
The char house is that nice, big red-brick building, the one that looks good in all the pictures. What can we say, darling? Red is just your color.
For many people in the crowd, it was bittersweet - many had family members that had worked at the refinery, where operations were suspended in 2003. Others were just attached to the property as an iconic representation of their city, some having lived within sight of the buildings.
(Click ahead for the video.)
For us, well, we love a good explosion. But we can vividly remember touring the factory on class field trips - the heat and humidity, the wonderment of the heavy machinery that would crush our adolescent bones, the noise, the sickening smell of it all. We loved every minute of the tour, because we knew that at the end, each of our wriggling, suburban elementary school bodies would be blessed with two packets of that pure, most blessed white powder: refined sugar. After all, we were probably nine years old (and we definitely hadn't seen Scarface yet).
D.H. Griffin of Texas Inc. coordinated the demolition, which should have been no problem. After all, this is the same company that boasts demolitions of the AstroHall, Jeff Davis Hospital, and currently holds the title for "tallest building in Texas taken down with explosives" - Fort Worth's 407-foot tall Landmark Tower.
So we trudged into the cold morning, eager with anticipation. Folks were milling about in the pre-dawn light, securing their vantage points and setting cameras on tripods. Events of this magnitude only come around so often, and it was a vivid reminder of Sugar Land's small-town roots. Oh, and there were T-shirts: an equally vivid reminder of Sugar Land's ever-present marketing as an affluent suburb.
As the countdown reached zero, and the big boom sent a shockwave heard for miles, a string of smaller charges were triggered, and slowly the bin building began to slip from the sky. It was almost poetic and graceful, giving way to a giant cloud of black dust, which then settled just as quickly as it rose.
However, the furnace building never fell - despite the structure's visible lean of about a half-window difference between its base and its roof. Our familiarity with the property suggests this to be around a two-to-three foot distance. Some brave souls in hard hats were sent in to re-set charges, which were to explode in another 30 minutes. Much of the crowd stuck around to watch.
(The second attempt to blow up the furnace building, which also didn't work.)
That furnace building was a stubborn son-of-a-gun, though, and even the second round of charges wouldn't bring it down. What's more, D. H. Griffin had run out of explosives, and just when it looked like they'd need to call in Richard Dean Anderson, they announced that the building would be pulled down with cables in approximately an hour. The demolition crew moved back in place, rigging up cables and preparing to rip the building down.
No longer held by the seductive boom of the explosives, and frustrated by the cold numbing its toes, much of the crowd began to filter away. Those that stuck around, however, bore witness to the sudden, unexpected collapse of the furnace building - less than half an hour after the prior announcement.
Like a punch-drunk fighter finally letting go of the ropes, the furnace building toppled quickly - workers sprinting away from the crashing and the ensuing black cloud filling up the sky. The remaining crowd stood, jaws either agape in awe or frantically theorizing if and how many persons might be trapped.
Fortunately, reports soon came from D. H. Griffin that all workers had been accounted for and there were no casualties. We're sure that Mayor James Thompson breathed a heavy sigh of relief - after all, who needs the ghosts of some demolition workers haunting your newly redeveloped historic site? By no means was it a perfect demolition, but given the property's history, it felt like a fitting one. So goodbye childhood tours - and hey, nine year-old self: Did you know you can just buy that sugar stuff at the grocery store? Whoa.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.