WATERVILLE — Work crews on Wednesday began demolishing the former John Martin’s Manor on College Avenue as part of a two-week effort to raze the building and remove debris to make way for a housing project.

The 30,000-square-foot building at 54 College Ave. closed in 2007 after a 30-year run. It had been owned by Peter Martin, who grew up in the business with his father, John, who opened it in 1977.

The restaurant, which employed 70 people, could seat 300 patrons for dining, 400 for banquets and 200 in the lounge. Peter Martin sold the restaurant to Autote Enterprises of New Haven, Connecticut, which closed the restaurant because it was losing money.

A photo shows the early days of The Jefferson restaurant and before it became John Martin’s Manor Restaurant at 54 College Ave. in Waterville. Demolition of the property began Wednesday and is expected to take about two weeks, according to property owner Arthur Turmelle. The clearing of the property makes way for a new housing development called Manor Gardens. Photo courtesy Arthur Turmelle

The building continued as a banquet center that catered special functions, and in 2010 Sportech bought Autotote. An off-track betting parlor in the basement continued to operate until 2012, when it moved to Jefferson Street. The building changed hands after that, and in 2015 was leased to a business that tried to operate a steak house in the basement and a banquet center and consignment shop on the main floor, but the business closed within two years.

On Wednesday, Mary Audet and husband Larry Audet watched the demolition from their car. Mary said when she lived in Jackman in the 1970s, she’d make the two-hour drive to the manor for Easter dinner and other special occasions. She recalled going to the restaurant with her parents in the 1950s when the business was known as The Jefferson. “You can take the building down, but you can’t take the memories,” she said.

The Turmelle family, which has owned and managed several housing units in Waterville for more than 35 years, is looking to build 36 townhouse-style apartments in 14 buildings. The buildings would be constructed on the John Martin’s Manor site and adjacent lots as well.

Waterville officials noted the demolition work will require the southbound lanes of College Avenue to be closed Thursday, May 12, from 7 a.m. to noon. Those lanes will be closed from Oak Street to Chaplin Street.

Morning Sentinel photographer Rich Abrahamson and staff writer Amy Calder contributed to this report.

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