Hammer will sound era’s end

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015

And even Suffolk’s old municipal building on Market Street shall pass.

An auction of much of its contents Saturday will be a major step in the vanishing of a building where generations conducted business with the city.

Auctioneer John Marshall sorts through some of the many items going under the hammer at the old municipal building, including old phonebooks.

Auctioneer John Marshall sorts through some of the many items going under the hammer at the old municipal building, including old phonebooks.

Auction house Marshall Enterprises has the contract. Among past auctions he has run, proprietor John Marshall puts the significance of the occasion up there with Suffolk’s Gurley Press, which operated at the corner of North Saratoga and West Washington streets, and the old court building for Williamsburg and James City County.

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Most of what goes under the hammer will be more mundane things like filing cabinets, office furniture and electronics. But Marshall notes some items that might be of keener interest — the flagpole, a brass plaque from Post 57 of the American Legion, some phonebooks from the 1940s and ‘50s.

“You just don’t find them everyday,” he said.

There are the pews from the council chamber. “Usually people who like to buy them are starting a church,” Marshall said.

The building was rendered obsolete by the roughly $37-million new city hall, behind it fronting West Washington Street.

Jay Smigielski, a city purchasing agent, said that after Saturday’s auction, the next step in demolishing the old building, which will become a much-needed parking lot, is asbestos abatement, after it’s turned over to the demolition contractor on Wednesday.

Making the building safe for the bulldozers is supposed to take four to six weeks, Smigielski said.

Explosives won’t be used, he said, quipping he’s a bit disappointed. “All the demolishing will be done with bulldozers.”

As Marshall works his vocal chords to the limit Saturday from 9:30 a.m., trying to get as much money as possible for Suffolk taxpayers, the history of the old building might linger a little on his mind.

Besides its more recent functions, many in Suffolk would recall when it housed the police department, Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the courts, including court clerks, judge chambers and so forth.

“I think they even had cells there at one time,” Marshall said.

The auctioneer recalls the last time he warmed one of chamber’s pews. It was 1991, and the drag racer was disappointed when councilors voted to shut down the drag track at the airport.

“We argued and fought for it, but it didn’t do no good,” Marshall said, describing one of many fights the citizens of Suffolk have waged in the wood-paneled room over the years, — some won, probably more lost.

Marshall said there are too many items for an off-site auction: He’ll go room-to-room.

Smigielski said as much from the old building as possible was allocated to departments in the new building. The school district and constitutional officers were given the chance to pick over what was left.

“It will be no cost to the city or the taxpayer,” Smigielski said. “We will make some money off it.”

Much of that depends on the fast-talking, frenzy-whipping abilities of Marshall.

“I’m hoping we will get a good crowd of people,” he said. “You never know.”

For more information, visit www.johnmarshallauctions.com.