$500K in repairs needed on East Falls retaining wall reflects citywide problem

Sections of a 550-foot-long retaining wall in East Falls built in the late 1920s are leaning, cracked, and unsafe, affecting the owners of 65 homes on either side of the wall.

Sound like an extraordinary situation? Not in Philadelphia. 

There are 78 common walls in communities across the city with similar problems, in need of a total of $22 million in repairs. But there is no funding to fix them.

"We don't have a specific solution for East Falls. What we need is a solution citywide," according to Streets Commissioner David Perri.

The stone-masonry wall in East Falls separates the rear alley of houses along 3401-3463 W. Penn St. from the common driveway of homes along 3400-3458 Midvale Ave. Fissures are visible between the alley and the wall, and plants are growing in deteriorating parts of the mica schist and cement. If the wall falls, the rear decks of Penn Street homes will collapse and cause structural damage to those houses, a structural report by the Street Department found.

The Department of Licenses & Inspections sent a letter to residents in June informing them that they were in violation of building codes because of the condition of the wall. The residents have since been told that the situation does not pose an imminent threat to their safety and the violations have been rescinded while the city seeks a solution to the problem there.

But the situation in East Falls, which will take an estimated $500,000 to shore up, wouldn't even make the top-ten list of worst common walls in the city, Perri said.

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About the author

Alan Jaffe, Contributor

Alan Jaffe has been a contributing writer for PlanPhilly since 2008, focusing on overlooked buidlings and historic preservation issues. He was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”

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