Philadelphia embarks on demolition of large crumbling structures

 Demolition begins on Hunting Park building Wednesday. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Demolition begins on Hunting Park building Wednesday. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

A new program to crack down on hazardous buildings in Philadelphia kicked off Wednesday with the demolition of a wall in the Hunting Park neighborhood. 

A sky-high grappling excavator bit into the wall of the property to begin tearing down the decrepit structure under the watchful eye of Mayor Michael Nutter.  The four-story structure just off Rising Sun Avenue in Hunting Park was considered so dangerous that the first two floors had to be taken down by hand before a machine could finish the job.

The city’s new proactive effort will target unoccupied buildings of 15,000 square feet or more, said Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams.

Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams says his team is working with the fire department, targeting structures in danger of collapse. The latest effort continues an ambitious agenda.

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“Last year, OSHA reported that the Department of Licenses and Inspections saved over 170 lives from dangerous construction sites,” he said. “We removed and cut in half over 300 dangerous structures, and we cleaned and sealed more properties than we’ve done in the last four or five years — over 2,000 properties. And this year, we hope to eclipse that as well.”

The majority of the buildings are located in the City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s 7th District.

“We have to protect the residents who live by these structures and who are scared on a daily basis for the potential of vandalism and fires,” she said.

The city is in the process of adding inspectors to aid in the initiative, and fire department personnel have been cross-trained to address imminently dangerous buildings.

The effort follows two recent tragedies in the city.

Three years ago, two firefighters were killed while battling a blaze in an abandoned Kensington warehouse. And on June 5, 2013, six people were killed when a building under demolition fell on an adjacent Salvation Army Thrift Store on Market Street.


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