MERRILLVILLE — Time ran out for the iconic clock tower at the landmark Radisson at Star Plaza in Merrillville, which owner White Lodging is demolishing to make room for a newer, more upscale hotel.
On Wednesday morning, a backhoe reached up, clamped down and plucked the towering clock off the top of the 48-year-old hotel and convention center. The backhoe's claws crushed it to smithereens and dropped the debris to the asphalt below.
White Lodging hired Illinois-based Brandenburg Construction to tear down the Radisson at Star Plaza, which had been one of the most popular gathering spots in the Region and helped transform the intersection of U.S. 31 and Interstate 65 from cornfields to the area's busiest shopping hub.
Spokeswoman Kathleen Quilligan Sebastian said demolition should take four months.
The Merrillville-based hotel development company has fenced off the property and has security patrolling it to keep away scrappers and trespassers. Construction workers have been slowly reducing the hotel where senators spoke and countless couples were wed into piles of rubble and scrap metal. Much of the building is now crumbled, the parking lot is filled with heaps of twisted steel, and a dumpster blocks off the entrance, where there's a row of barrels filled with the hydraulic fluid once used to lube the elevators.
So far, backhoes have torn down the former T. J. Maloney's Irish pub and restaurant, the Star Cafe, Wisecrackers Comedy Club, and the Grand Ballroom that hosted innumerable business functions and luminaries like former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
"It's being taken down piece by piece so it can be separated for recycling," said Don Pettit, White Lodging's director of engineering and site manager for the demolition project.
White Lodging is not imploding the building because it's too close to the Twin Towers, restaurants along U.S. 30, a residential subdivision and the Star Plaza Theatre, which will remain open.
"We wouldn't be a good neighbor if we did that," he said. "We don't want to wake up any babies. That would be rude."
White Lodging donated most of the furniture and kitchen equipment inside the hotel to 60 organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the city of Hobart, the city of Crown Point, Hammond schools, homeless shelters and women's shelters. After the Radisson checked out its final guests New Year's Eve, White Lodging opened the sprawling 343-room hotel to police and fire departments for training.
Firefighters practiced elevator rescues and police did K9 training before demolition kicked off in early April.
White Lodging expects to replace the Radisson at Star Plaza in 2018 with a 215-room hotel, with up to 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom that can host up to 500. White Lodging is owned by Bruce White, the son of the late billionaire Dean White, who built the Star Plaza hotel — originally a Holiday Inn — in 1969.