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Dec. 15--The demolition of a downtown Santa Rosa building is underway to make room for a boutique hotel, but don't expect to see any wrecking balls or dramatic implosions anytime soon.

The removal of the former Hahman Drug Co. building is more of a slow-mo demo.

The 1908 two-story concrete structure sandwiched between the historic Empire Building and a more modern commercial structure is being taken down very carefully to ensure that neighboring buildings are not damaged.

"This is not so much a demolition as a dismantling," developer Hugh Futrell said.

Over the past few weeks, the nondescript building, which in recent years has housed professional offices and a restaurant, has been gutted, revealing thick concrete walls and ceilings. The building, constructed two years after the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of downtown, was "overdesigned" by someone likely hoping to ensure it could survive another temblor, Futrell said.

The combination of 10-inch thick concrete walls and a location between two buildings that need to be preserved have made the demolition process more painstaking than Futrell had expected.

"The concrete, particularly because of the location, has to be cut and removed with great care," he said.

Crews wielding large, loud concrete cutting saws sliced through the second-story walls Thursday, at times sending up showers of sparks as they struck embedded steel bars.

In the coming weeks, chunks of the ceiling and walls will be removed one section at a time, punching additional holes in the structure until all that remains are the support beams, which will then be removed.

When it's gone, the space will become a narrow courtyard separating the iconic 1908 beaux-arts Empire Building to the north from the commercial building owned by Zach Berkowitz to the south.

Following extensive renovations, the two buildings will become the 62-unit Old Courthouse Square Hotel. The $19 million project is a partnership between the Santa Rosa-based Hugh Futrell Corp. and Greystone Hotels, a San Francisco-based boutique hotel management company.

The project is expected to be completed in 2018.

It's also a big bet on the future of downtown Santa Rosa, which many see as bright following the reunification of Old Courthouse Square, an increased number of downtown special events, the arrival of several new bars and restaurants in recent years and hopes for new downtown apartment projects.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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