COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The oldest public housing apartments in South Carolina are now in the process of turning to rubble.
Columbia Housing Authority officials hosted a demolition ceremony in honor of Gonzales Gardens on Wednesday.
For 77 years, the apartment complex was a fixture of Columbia's urban landscape. It was also a place Arlene Mitchell will never forget.
"It's kind of surreal," Mitchell said. "I just really don't know how to feel right now. But, it's time for a change."
Mitchell made her change in the mid-90's after living at Gonzales Gardens for 20 years. On Wednesday, she watched as a demolition crew began hacking away at the first of the complex's 30 apartment buildings.
"No, it wasn't so bad at all," Mitchell said. "I mean I learned how to ride my bike out here. I learned how to cook from my mom out here. I have a lot of good memories out here."
Wednesday's demolition work is the latest action in a five-year plan aimed at tearing down Gonzales Gardens. Most of the units built in 1940 were considered modern for the time but now fail to meet multiple standards. Some have lead paint and asbestos issues, outdated wiring, deficient firewalls, and deficient plumbing. And yet, many who lived there loved it.
Of course, before the buildings could come down, people had to be moved out. According to officials, that was 280 families or around 600 individuals. As required by HUD, the Columbia Housing Authority offered each family three different places to live. All but three chose to stay in Richland County -- most very close to their old homes.
"I was very surprised that two-thirds of them did not want to leave," Nancy Stoudenmire with the Columbia Housing Authority said. "They were happy with the housing, they loved the location. They loved that it's on the bus stop. So for a lot of people, it was bitter news that they really didn't want to leave. On the other hand, I think all of them are excited about the quality of the housing that they're living in now."
The group plans to have all 30 buildings down by the end of this year.
A revitalization plan is in the works that's expected to be re-opened in the spring of 2018.