Utility company NW Natural has begun to tear down the 102-year-old Gas and Coke Building.

Historical preservationists have been trying to save the abandoned building in Northwest Portland ever since news of impending demolition surfaced in December 2013.

NW Natural spokeswoman Melissa Moore says demolition began Thursday.

Last year, NW Natural agreed to leave the building alone if supporters could come up with the estimated $2 million that it would take to keep the decaying structure standing.

The campaign fell dramatically short.

Moore says activists raised only $4,000, and abandoned the fundraising effort earlier this year. However, the group has maintained a presence on social media and continues to advocate for the building to be preserved.

Architecture critic Brian Libby broke the news this morning on his website. "Shame on them," he wrote, "and shame on all of us."

Located on U.S. Highway 30 just south of the St. Johns Bridge, the building was constructed in 1913 to provide office space for factory workers. It has sat empty for decades, and is currently in such a dilapidated state that no one is allowed inside.

However, the building has gained a large number of fans over the years thanks to its bold gothic architectural style, and it was kept on the Portland's Historic Resource Inventory until the city removed it in August 2012 at the request of NW Natural.

The company says it has to proceed with the demolition as part of a federally mandated cleanup effort in the area. The building contains lead and asbestos, and sits on top of contaminated soil.

Moore told WW that the demolition—already delayed three times—has been cleared to begin for months, but was pushed back due to unrelated issues within the company.

Workers will first spend four to five weeks stripping out the interior of the building before moving on to demolishing the exterior. Moore estimates that the process will take six to eight weeks in total.

Moore says her company won't ask its ratepayers to foot the bill for maintaining the building, but respects the community members who tried to save it.

"We really applauded their efforts," she says.


UPDATE, 3:28 pm Friday: 

WW spoke to Scott Becker, leader of the group Save the Portland GasCo Building, who confirmed that the group had raised $4,000 through T-shirt sales by the end of last year. However, he says the group never quit fundraising—one “unauthorized” member told NW Natural that they had given up, but the rest disagreed. 

As a result, he says, the group felt blindsided when NW Natural informed them on Tuesday that the demolition was proceeding.

Becker and other supporters are planning to hold a rally tonight at Becker's Skyline Tavern in support of the building.

Becker says it's important to preserve the building, even if it can't be renovated.

"Portland is moving so fast these days—we're ripping out old Portland, and this is one of the last icons," he says. "This would be a relic that points to Portland's past. We call it an industrial cathedral."

A message from the group's Facebook page says they're currently flying drones over the property to record video for preservation, and plan to set up a 24/7 "GASCO cam."