Fire-damaged Black Olive building remains eye-sore one year later

A damaged building on East Mount Airy Avenue remains an eyesore for neighbors a full year after a fire.

Its location, just a half-block away from Germantown Avenue, the neighborhood’s primary commercial corridor, is of particular concern for the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District.

“It really has an impact because it’s such a small commercial block there,” said Mt. Airy BID Director Hollie Malamud-Price, ” but it really impacts everybody. It’s a blight on the community.”

One year ago

Firefighters arrived just before 5 p.m. on June 14 and quickly discovered flames shooting out of the second floor apartment above the former Black Olive restaurant at 24 E. Mt. Airy Ave.

Two adjoining residences – 22 and 26 E. Mt. Airy Ave. – suffered water damage in the process of putting out the blaze.

No one was injured in what investigators later determined to be an electrical fire – a faulty air conditioner the culprit.

Since that summer day , the charred properties have seemingly sat untouched with blown out windows revealing missing sections of roof.

And because of an active criminal case, unrelated to the fire, it doesn’t appear that the building will be repaired anytime soon.

Owner could go to jail

The properties at 22 and 24 E. Mt. Airy Ave. are both owned by Ina Walker, one-half of a duo currently under federal indictment for stealing federal funds intended for a public school and using them for private gain.

Walker and Hugh C. Clark have both pleaded guilty to taking more than $522,000 from New Media Technology Charter School, which they both helped found, to help fund a small private school, three businesses and personal expenses.

The pair also defrauded the Wilmington Savings Fund Society of $339,000. Walker took out the loan to purchase 22-24 E. Mt. Airy Ave.

Sentencing is expected sometime in July.

Walker, a Mt. Airy resident, did not return a call seeking comment.

What the city is doing

The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspection has declared 24 E. Mt. Airy Ave. a “Blighting Influence on the Community,” for its lack of windows and “entryway doors,” according to a violation notice.

“As a vacant building, not secured against entry, this building is deemed unsafe,” reads the notice originally issued in late January.

Three L&I notices have been issued at the property and “it is now eligible for court action, which is where it’s headed,” Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

Violations handed out for 22 E. Mt. Airy Ave. related to roof and flashing damages have already translated to Municipal Court action, he said.

The city has also filed suit against Walker in an effort to recoup more than $12,000 in back taxes for the property dating back to 2005. Walker has filed an appeal with the city’s Taxes Review Board, questioning that amount.

Both properties are poised for a sheriff sale, according to McDonald.

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