Check out slideshow at top right for original photos of condition of structures.
By Alan Jaffe
The floors have been stabilized and the front windows have been covered, but there are still no rear walls on parts of the historic Girard Estate Warehouses in Old City and parts of the buildings remain unsealed.
A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge had ordered the owners, 20-30 North Front Street LLC, to meet a Nov. 29 deadline to rebuild the rear walls, stabilize and cover all the openings to the structures, and reconstruct the collapsing floors at 22 and 24 N. Front St.
An extension has been issued on the deadline for the work, according to Clemens Construction Company superintendent Michael Garofolo, who was at the site on Thursday morning. He said there were “issues with the original foundation, which wasn’t strong enough to rebuild the walls.”
The replacement of the joists – the parallel beams that support the floor planks – were “50 percent completed” and “once the joists are finished, we will close the back,” Garofolo said. He predicted that work would be finished by Dec. 13 and “the completion of stabilization by Christmas.”
City inspectors did not set a new deadline for the completion of the work, so long as they were satisfied that progress was continuing, Garofolo said.
He said the front of the buildings had been “100 percent closed off for weather.” Plywood covered all the openings on that side. Windows and doors on the Church Street side and the rear of the buildings remained uncovered Thursday. Garofolo also said debris had been removed in and around the property, and “everything inside has been safed off.”
On Oct. 11, Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan had ordered the owners of the property to meet a strict schedule to seal up and stabilize the collapsing portions of the buildings or pay a $750,000 fine. Her order came in response to a civil suit filed by the City Solicitor that cited a variety of building code violations and said the owners’ actions left substantial brickwork unsupported and “directly contributed to the a collapse of the rear walls” last May.
The partnership that owns the property includes the Brooklyn-based BRP Development Corp., which has planned to transform the buildings into a condominium or apartment complex. BRP co-founder Geoff Flournoy did not return a call for comment on Thursday afternoon.
In the 1830s, the buildings were erected by the Girard Estate, or possibly shipping magnate Stephen Girard himself, to store imported goods unloaded on the Delaware River docks. The city has described the buildings as “among the most important historic structures in the United States” and “among the last remaining examples of commercial architecture from the Early Republic era.”
The buildings are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and they were classifed as “significant” resources by the city Historical Commission in 2003. They also are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Their historic significance has drawn the concern of neighbors and the Old City Civic Association. Rich Thom, an architect who chairs the OCCA’s development committee, said he is “chagrined at how little progress is going on. OCCA is disappointed that just one or two men have working on the site.” While openings have been sealed on some sides, “the rear is still wide open. And there is no serious undertaking going on for the stabilization,” Thom said Thursday.
He said the owners have been in talks with the city Department of Licenses and Inspections over how to stabilize the structures, “and the issue is too much money. They don’t want to spend the money in this housing market.”
Alan Jaffe is a former Inquirer reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org