Two backhoes took turns tearing down Vancouver’s oldest Burgerville restaurant on Monday, while nearby onlookers mourned the spectacle.
“It will be gone by the end of the day,” said Linda Bozarth, a State Farm employee who works across the street from the East Mill Plain Boulevard and D Street hamburger stand.
Bozarth said people already miss the restaurant, which closed on Sept. 4.
“I’ve watched people drive up and when they get out to order their shoulders just slump” when they see the restaurant is closed, Bozarth said. “But that’s progress. What are you going to do?”
The Vancouver-based chain sold the site for $750,000 in December to Vancouver-based developer Elie Kassab, of Prestige Development. Its tear-down will make way for a $16 million apartment and retail project, breaking ground in late October or November. To be called Prestige Plaza, Kassab’s two-building complex will have 92 residential units that will take up the full downtown block bordered by Mill Plain Boulevard, D, C and 13th streets.
Restaurant or deli
In addition to Burgerville, much of the site was formerly occupied by the old Vancouver police station, which Kassab purchased and razed in 2007.
Prestige Plaza will have ground-floor retail space fronting Mill Plain Boulevard and live-work spaces — apartments with storefronts — facing 13th Street.
“There will be enough room for a restaurant or a deli and coffee shop” in the retail space, Kassab said.
He anticipates high demand for the space in downtown Vancouver, increasingly popular as an up-and-coming area for urban living.
“We expect those spaces to lease up quickly,” Kassab said.
He expects rents will start at $700 per month for living units in Prestige Plaza.
‘Sad to see’
Downtown office worker Dani Lucas was saddened by Monday’s Burgerville demolition.
“It’s just sad to see a landmark like that go away,” said Lucas, an accounting and quality control manager at the Jackson Hewitt Tax office across Mill Plain Boulevard from the Burgerville.
Lucas said she frequented Burgerville as a child, although she rarely eats at the restaurant now because of its prices.
“I don’t because the economy doesn’t warrant it,” Lucas said, staring out her office window at what was left of the cinder-block building, once known for its neon signs and glass-front row of ordering windows.
Rather than trying to undersell the competition, Burgerville has become synonymous with fresh, seasonal, local food, such as strawberry shakes, Walla Walla onion rings and sweet potato fries. The company makes no apologies for its higher prices and limited regional presence.
Burgerville’s downtown store, just a block west of Interstate 5 at the Mill Plain Boulevard exit, had a huge following, said Jeremy Smith, a production manager at Rapid Refill, a nearby printer ink store.
Smith said the Mill Plain Burgerville acted much like a mall anchor store, and helped the small shops and businesses nearby.
“I think they’re throwing away money,” Smith said. “They were busier than any other restaurant around here and they brought business in.”
‘A terrible waste’
Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey said the company plans to open a downtown restaurant, but a decision about the site has not been made.
“At this time we are still in the exploratory process of determining how we can best fit the needs of our downtown Vancouver guests,” Harvey said. “We are committed to keeping Burgerville’s presence in downtown Vancouver.”
The site’s employees were transferred to other locations within the 38-restaurant chain.
Vancouver resident and insurance salesman Gary Chandler said a new site won’t replace Burgerville’s downtown walk-up, which opened in 1962, one year after the chain’s founder, George Propstra, opened his first restaurant in the Garrison Heights neighborhood. That site closed when the company opened a larger restaurant next door.
“I know we need to move forward,” Chandler said of the Burgerville demolition. “Personally, I think it’s a terrible waste of our downtown history.”
By Monday at noon the restaurant’s inner walls remained standing amid piles of plywood, glass and pieces of white-washed wooden lattice that was used to enclose an outdoor dining area.
Burgerville operates 38 restaurants in Washington and Oregon across a territory that stretches north to Centralia, south to Albany, Ore., and east to The Dalles, Ore.
Kassab expects Prestige Plaza’s first building will open in mid-2012.
Editor’s note: This story has been modified to reflect a correction.