By Dwight Williamson For The Logan Banner
March 29, 2014
He may barely stand five-feet tall with his boots on, but he can make tall buildings shake by his mere presence. One might say he is the man who is “tearing down Logan” and can appropriately be called “Mighty Mike”. In reality, he is a demolition expert and a very interesting character. His full name is Mike Urioste (pronounced like curiosity without the “c”).
The fateful night of November 15, 2010 was the beginning of what has since led to what is becoming a major facelift to the crumbling town of Logan and some surrounding areas. It was the evening of the Aracoma Hotel fire which eventually brought Mike Urioste to the town of Logan. He was working on the demolition of the nearby Bandmill Coal tipple when Scott Beckett, Chief of the Logan Fire Department, asked him to look at the burned out hotel.
The Aracoma had served as a historic landmark in the town of Logan for many years and, like other places in and around Logan, was never truly appreciated until after it was gone. Built in 1917, some of its guests included John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, actors and actresses, and just about anyone else of significance who ever visited our fair town. It also served as a headquarters for politicos over the years and no doubt provided the front for the “back-stabbing” and “throat-slashing” of the politics of yesterday. It was here in 1960 the tide turned when brief cases full of Kennedy money flowed into Logan to help elect a young John Kennedy as President, a man still revered by most Logan Countians.
S.A. Ammar Jr. owned the property in the early 1980s when this writer first visited the landmark hotel. S.A. was a friend and, upon his request, I went there to do a story about the improvements he had made since his late father’s passing. He showed me the “Kennedy Room” and virtually gave me a tour of the place. However, the most interesting part of the visit was the huge basement. It immediately presented an eerie feeling for me, and I remember thinking of the secrets the place could hold. There were large steel doors that led to tunnels beneath the streets. A person could hideout here forever, I thought. I halfway felt I would see the legendary Jimmy Hoffa poke his head from behind any corner. At the time, I was unaware of the 100 or more Indian graves uncovered when the basement was being dug out.
Mike Urioste probably didn’t know the history of the hotel until later. But since that time, he has become a familiar face, especially around the town, and has made many friends. Since painstakingly demolishing the hotel and removing the rubble, he has gone on to raze what was called the Esposito building at Mt. Gay, the Hale building in town, the former parking garage at Holland Lane, Man Appalachian Regional Hospital, the former home of both Logan High School and Logan Junior High Schools at the east end of Stratton Street, as well as several other nearby places. He has torn down five houses for the City of Logan and is about finished with a structure across from the Logan post office which he purchased. When a house fire at Canton Lane in Logan took two children’s lives, Urioste’s company voluntarily removed the debris at no cost to the grieving family.
His company, URCO Inc., has amazingly done the jobs with little, if any, damage to surrounding properties, vehicles or pedestrians. And, in each job he has saved property owners (by their own admission) thousands of dollars. It is able to do so because the company is almost unique as, instead of burying bricks, wood, etc., in landfills somewhere, Mike ends up recycling the material. He re-sales nearly every brick and timber that comes from a structure. He has buyers waiting for the materials.
Buildings are not his only expertise. The 56-year-old has demolished 48 coal mine facilities, such as tipples and silos. He’s torn down large bridges, chemical plants and just about every kind of structure imaginable in all parts of the country from Buffalo, New York to Chicago, Illinois.
He was born just outside St. Louis and now claims residence at a monstrous home in Gadsden, Alabama on the Coosa River. Located 56 miles from Birmingham, the city of 104,000 is in coal mining country with a couple of steel mills also in the area.
At one time, Urioste had four residences stretched out across the country.
“It’s almost embarrassing to say it, but I still spent 60 per cent of my life living in hotels. I put around 80,000 miles a year on my vehicles,” he said with a smile.
Logan is now his “home away from home” as he has bought the former Logan Wholesale building on Dingess Street and lives upstairs in what could be called a penthouse, along with his girlfriend Karen and their dachshund dog named Cookie. His plans to refurbish that building may prove astonishing.
Urioste is what is known in the industry as a “Class A wrecker.” In other words, he has the license to demolish high rise buildings, chemical buildings, etc., which lower level licensed workers cannot. Class “B” wreckers, for instance, could only work on structures less than four stories high.
“I’ve been 30 years in this trade and there was never a time I was not a boss,” he explained as he gazed out the window at his workers on Hudgins Street. He has worked as a roofer, a welder and even a plumber, but he always wanted to be a “boilermaker.” “There were too many layoffs and things, so I started this business.”
“There was an elderly Jewish man told me once that if you’re ‘going to work in a community, you need to be a part of the community’ — and I believe that,” he explained. “Logan is a good community that could be raised to greatness again. There is much needed that would change the landscape of the town.”
Karen, who originally is from Florida, says: “In Florida, you can’t even have a vehicle in your yard that doesn’t have a license tag on it.”
Before sitting down with Karen and Mike for this interview, I noticed a pile of trash, mostly quart sized beer bottles adjacent to the rear of their property.
“I put a garbage can out there and supply them the bags, but they still leave them on the ground,” Mike said, obviously referring to the “vagabonds” that congregate along the railroad tracks and under the bridges. “With help and dedication of the people, Logan can be a better place.”
Some may believe incorrectly so that certain structures in the area could be saved. However, the truth is there are still others, like the burned out Fox apartments and the condemned former Browning Hotel, located behind McCormick’s Department Store, which need razed. Besides being a fire hazard and a den for rodents, snakes and the like, some places harbor drug users. There are other such “dinosaurs” in the once thriving town.
This writer firmly believes “there can be no future without the past.” However, our great county, which has for over 100 years played a major role in the development of the entire nation by helping to supply the coal which fired the steel mills and power plants that generated the military might in two World Wars, and even more wars which should never have happened, needs to honor its past and change with the future. Perhaps, we should properly thank “Mighty Mike” from Alabama. I’m sure he and Karen could be back in ‘Bama on the lake with their jet skis, or perhaps laying back at their indoor pool — but they’re not.
“I’m probably going to bid on the demolition of the schools,” he said. “And, I’ve got plenty of other things to keep me busy.” Urioste was referring to the former Aracoma High School and Logan Jr. High building at Cole Branch, Whitman Grade School and Man Junior High School. Each has been properly designated for demolition by the Logan County School Board.
Urioste, who pays $30,000 a year just in liability insurance, believes in hard work and has proven himself time and time again. He overcame polio as a child, and while working at the Ban Mill site a few years ago, suffered a broken leg which hospitalized him for a great while and required surgery that left him with a limp.
“I could be drawing disability tomorrow, if I wanted to,” he quipped.
Referring to retirement, he said: “I’ll probably die on the job. I don’t know what else I would do.”
Mike Urioste probably came to Logan County not aware of its unique history. However, he and his “Mighty Mike” company just might be helping Logan to brighten its future — a “future” which should be brightened by its past.