Yesterday, a little after 1:30 PM, our new neighbor had its topping out ceremony. As workers and supervisors and a few sidewalk superintendents watched, the big IHI crane lifted the final beam, painted white and topped by an evergreen tree, into place atop the five story building. As always, click the image for a bigger version.

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“Topping out” is a timeless practice, traceable to ancient Scandinavia, where, upon completion of a new building, a live tree was placed on top to appease the tree-dwelling spirits of the ancestors who had been displaced by the felling of trees.

Scandinavian emigrants carried the practice with them to most of civilized Europe and Great Britain and thence to North America. In the Netherlands and Flanders there is still the tradition of “pannenbier” (“roof tile beer” in Dutch) in which it is common to hang out a flag once the highest point of a building is reached. The flag, usually the national, regional or city flag, then stays in place until the owner of the building provides free beer to the workers, after which the flag is lowered. It is considered greedy if the flag is flown for more than a couple of days.

We saw no evidence of this practice yesterday. If we had, we would have donned our hard hats and slipped into the line, especially if the beer had come from one of our nearby brew pubs, Foothills, on Fourth Street or Small Batch, at the corner of Fifth and Cherry, which just opened this week.

Maybe when they finish the building, there will be a second topping out ceremony, “pannenbier” included. That is not uncommon. When the Reynolds Building was completed in 1929, trees were placed on the ledges near the top. Since we were still in the throes of “prohibition”, there was no pannenbier, but since it was the Christmas season, they were lit Christmas trees.

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Looking southeastwardly across Liberty Street from Sixth, December, 1929 at the Christmas trees decorating the ledges of the brand new Reynolds Building. It is easy to date this picture, because by Christmas, 1930, JC Penney, seen near the lower center, had moved to Fourth Street. Today that building, erected in 1924, is known as the AOL Building, shops and apartments. Only truly cool people live there.

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