A year-old stain on the heart of downtown Riverbank was finally removed when a crew and some heavy equipment worked this past week to demolish the Serv-All Liquor Store and clothing store next to it. The businesses had been severely damage in a fire that raged on the corner at Atchison and Third streets in August, 2014.
Since that time, three separate insurance companies finally agreed to settlements, then specialists were contracted to remove asbestos that was found in the buildings.
Thursday, Oct. 15, a crew with a heavy bucket and large truck teamed up to separate the rubble into recyclable metals and construction debris, to be hauled off the site. By Saturday, all that remained was a chain-link fence surrounding the flat ground where the buildings once stood.
And with the front buildings gone, the scorch and smoke damage to the building immediately behind was clearly evident. Originally built as a home, it was being used as a church at the time of the fire. The fence also surrounds that property.
That area of Riverbank is home to several troubled properties.
Immediately to the south, at the corner of Topeka and Third streets, stands what was originally the Ditman Apartments, built in the 1920s as housing for the railroad management who would frequently come through town as the line was being built. It was severely damaged by a serious fire in January of 2006.
While work to repair it drags on and on, with scaffolding over the front of the building, it has not been occupied since that fire nearly a decade ago.
Immediately to the east of the Liquor Store site stands the Del Rio Theater. Opened in 1939, the theatre building, at one time, housed several businesses along Atchison and Third streets, with the lobby entrance originally on the corner. One store on the Atchison side was the original Landon’s, where World War II surplus was sold.
When last occupied, the corner of the building was a bar and restaurant. When the building was acquired by the Riverbank Redevelopment Agency, the theatre area was used as a bingo hall.
As plans for renovation were being developed, the building was used by the Riverbank Community Theatre group and Rio Arts for their theatrical and musical performances for several seasons. As the recession of the mid 2000s hit, and the building was ultimately condemned, the theatre groups disbanded.
When Governor Jerry Brown decided to dismantle redevelopment agencies across the state, local control of the property was lost.
What remains is a nearly two block area of disrepair and what would be called blight – ironically, just the thing redevelopment agencies were formed to fight.