It didn't take a geometry genius to realize the classical ruins were positioned incorrectly outside the building on Interstate 85 that until late last year was Byerly's Antiques.
Columns, whether Corinthian, Doric or Ionic, are meant to be vertical, to stand straight up. Wednesday, the four Corinthian columns - which had supported the portico of Byerly's for 42 years and before that the roof of the May Plantation in Alamance County - were stretched out in pairs horizontally on the ground.A crew from D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. had removed the columns early that morning. By Wednesday afternoon, they were preparing to take down the rest of the brick, two-story structure, formerly one of the South's largest antique operations. Since 1958, the store at the Groometown Road exit, between Greensboro and High Point, has served as a rendezvous point and, until last December, a shopping stop for interstate travelers.
``If all goes right, it will be down by dark,' said Larry Fields, Griffin's vice president.
The Griffin wreckers also had taken away the building's balcony, 26 hard-carved wood corbels under the eaves and the massive chandelier that hung from the portico. Those, too, had come from the May Plantation. Joe Byerly's late father, Odell Byerly, who founded the antique store in 1937, bought these architectural features from the person who demolished the plantation house.
The columns, balcony, chandelier and corbels will be stored in a warehouse Joe Byerly owns. He plans to use them again if he builds a new store on six acres he owns at the next exit south on the interstate. He says he must go to court and win more money from the Department of Transportation before he can build.
``It will be a replica,' Byerly said about the new store, talking over the noise of a massive machine with claws that was about to start ripping into the old one. ``That building is our image. It's on all our stationery, business cards, flyers that we mail all over the United States.'
He and his wife and business partner, Betsy, had arrived early to watch the columns come down. Betsy soon left crying.
``It's like a death in the family,' Joe Byerly said. ``It tore her up so much. ... She said, 'I can't watch this.' '
Odell Byerly built the structure in 1958, after the interstate opened, moving to the site from a store he had operated since 1946 on High Point Road.
Joe Byerly, 60, bought the business from his mother after his father died in 1970. He and his wife had dreaded demolition day since the Department of Transportation notified the couple in the mid-1990s their land was needed for a giant interchange that would connect Painter Boulevard, Greensboro's outer loop, with the interstate.
The Byerlys protested and started a ``save the store' petition that Joe Byerly says was signed by 30,000 people from all regions of the United States, most of them interstate motorists. The Byerlys contended the state had enough land for the interchange without taking the store.
DOT took possession of the property Dec. 9. Since then, the Byerlys have operated out of what they hope is a temporary store on Business I-85 in High Point, nine miles away. The Byerlys say they intend to take DOT to court to get more than the $1.8 million the state has been willing to pay so far for the land and building.
Joe Byerly says it will cost at least $6 million, including what he has paid for the land at Exit 133, to re-create the Byerly building.
Although the structure can be replicated, the setting can't. The old store stood on a knoll at the end of a long, straight stretch of highway. Southbound motorists could see the store looming ahead for minutes before reaching it. Money couldn't buy better exposure.
Byerly says he rode for many miles up and down the interstate looking for a similar location. He knew he wanted to stay on the highway because his petition drive showed that about 80 percentage of his business came from travelers.
He narrowed the possibilities to about 20 sites, before deciding the best was at an exit not far from the old store. Still, Byerly says, motorists heading south will see the site for only eight seconds.
``It's a dog compared to what I had,' Byerly says bitterly about the location.
The only happy part of Wednesday came when he got his first close inspection of the capitals, as the top of the columns are called. Looking up at them for so many years, Byerly assumed they were made of plaster. He and the Griffin crew worried the plaster would shatter and the beautifully carved capitals would be ruined during the move.
But the capitals came through the ordeal intact, and Byerly discovered why. They are made of terra cotta, not plaster.
``A terra cotta statue can sit in a garden for a thousand years,' he says about the material, which is often used in making underground pipes.
For the Byerly job, Fields summoned Jerry Howard from the company's Charlotte office. Howard has had plenty of experience handling delicate demolitions.
``It was a pretty touchy job,' Fields said about taking down the columns. ``It was all unknown until we got them down and saw what they were made of.' Fields' previous projects include Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He still has a few stadium seats left for sale.
Because the entire building became the state's property, Byerly had to buy back the columns, balcony and other ornaments from Griffin, which in its demolition contract with the state received the right to salvage and sell architectural features. Byerly paid D.H. Griffin $10,000, plus $2,000 to haul the artifacts to the warehouse.
Fields, who helped found D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. years ago, says he rarely gets a chance anymore to remove delicate architectural features.
That's ``because there's not much of it left out there,' he said.
And Byerly, who never passes up an opportunity to get a dig at the agency he views as the villain of this saga, declared he knows why. ``Because DOT has torn it all down.'
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