Demolition workers with S&R Corp., from left, Jay Wagner of Tewksbury, Tom Malvarosa of Dracut, Chico (who didn't want to give his full name), and Marty Conroy of Walpole (right, hidden), watch as the 128-year-old Varnum Building is torn down yesterday. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.
LOWELL -- Holding his young daughter in his arms, Chris Natale watched yesterday as the oversized excavator tore into the 128-year-old Varnum Building on the corner of Bridge and Third streets.
"It was one of my first properties," said Natale, six days after a three-alarm blaze destroyed the historic building. "I was thinking of fixing it up. That's what I do for a living. I fix things, old buildings. But look at it. I made the right decision."
That decision was made firm on Tuesday after structural engineers with the city determined the building, at 401-405 Bridge St., was not salvageable. The state Fire Marshal's office said the fire was caused by electrical problems between the second and third floors of the building, which

Building owner Chris Natale watches with his wife Christine and 3-year-old daughter, Angelina, who took photos with her mother's iPhone. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

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appears on the National Register of Historic Places. Natale bought the building in 1999. The blaze, which struck in the early-morning hours last Friday, sent flames quickly spreading to the fourth floor and the roof. Nobody was hurt, though at one point part of the roof collapsed and the cupola, with a pointed spire at the front corner of the building, crashed down onto Bridge Street.
Natale, who owns Mill City Properties on Dutton Street, moved some of the residents into property he owns on Gorham Street, and UMass Lowell was able to find housing for several students who shared an apartment in the burned-out building. Natale also contacted other landlords in the city and found housing for the remaining tenants left without

housing. He also found commercial space for the chiropractor's office and the hair salon located in the first floor. As Natale and his wife, Christine, watched the demolition, 3-year-old Angelina Natale climbed down from her father's arms and began taking photos and video of the demolition from the parking lot behind an adjacent lot. She scurried back seconds later after a sizable section of a wall was torn away from the building and crashed to the pavement.
Patrick O'Malley, a

A framed picture of the Eiffel Tower remains on an apartment wall as the 128-year-old Varnum Building is ripped down yesterday, six days after being severely damaged by a three-alarm blaze. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

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supervisor with S&R Corp. in Lowell, said the entire demolition would be completed in one day. "We'll be here until the whole thing is on the ground," O'Malley said. "Then we'll start getting rid of the debris. By Saturday, everything on this corner will be gone."
City officials moved swiftly in helping S&R obtain the necessary permits to perform the demolition, O'Malley said.
"You can see by the condition of the building and the proximity to a main street that it's not something you want to see standing for any length of time," he said. "It had to come down, and the sooner the better."
Crowds gathered on the sidewalk across the street, and behind the building farther up Third Street, but none of those asked

Wall by wall, a tractor eats its way through the Varnum Building yesterday. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

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said they were former tenants. One woman, who said she has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years but did not want to give her name, looked around and said she did not see anybody she knew who used to live in the building. Earlier in the week, Natale was able to escort some tenants back into the building to gather as many of their belongings as they could.
"We had to do it one at a time," he said. "People went in to get their photo albums, keepsakes, clothes, wallets and purses, important documents. A lot of people lost an awful lot. I feel so bad for them."
Natale, who lives in Melrose, was awakened by his wife who received a phone call about an hour after the fire began.
"I couldn't even tell you who made the call to tell us," he said. "I just jumped out of bed and ran downstairs and started making phone calls. We knew by that point that it was going to be a very serious fire. I remember feeling completely helpless. I feel a little better today.