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Review: Murrah Building included in history of demolition

By Randolph E. Schmid Published: May 5, 2006
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"Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition" by Jeff Byles (Harmony Books, 353 pages, $24).

Meet Jacob Volk, immigrant son of a butcher, who rose to become the dandy of devastation, a wrecker of Herculean proportions in early 20th-century New York, a city constantly remaking itself by pulling down one building to replace it with another.

Volk pulled down the best places and was proud of it, reports Jeff Byles in "Rubble," his book about the history of the wrecking business.

He never passed a tall building without giving it an appraising glance, Byles writes of Volk, one of the book's many fascinating characters, from Joshua and his blaring destruction of the walls of Jericho to the Loizeaux family, whose work regularly blasts its way onto TV news.

When Volk was demolishing a Vanderbilt mansion in Manhattan he was asked if he planned to salvage the carved stone fireplace or the Moorish billiards room for his own home.

"Listen," he replied, "am I a piker? You won't see second-hand stuff in my house."

Today's big name in demolition is probably the Maryland-based Loizeaux family, whose projects have included razing Seattle's Kingdome and finishing off the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where 168 people died after a truck bombing in 1995.

Family founder Jack Loizeaux, a forester who got his start blasting tree stumps, once told an audience that he and his family had set off more big bangs than anybody on earth in peacetime.

Speaking to a church congregation in an effort to reassure them that blasting nearby wouldn't damage their beautiful windows, Loizeaux added that he wasn't shy about appealing to the almighty. "If you did what we did, you'd pray a lot too," Byles quotes him as saying.

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