PlanPhilly

Demolition begins on Old City buildings gutted by fire

Demolition work began Tuesday on a pair of historic buildings in Old City that were gutted by a February 18th fire.

It took five weeks after the fire to stabilize the fire-weakened walls of 239 Chestnut Street enough to begin demo work, said Department of Licenses and Inspections spokesperson, Karen Guss. “It’s a really difficult situation,” Guss said.

Neither Guss nor the demo crews working the site were able to provide a precise estimate of how long the deconstruction of the 1852-constructed building would last. Guss said, “several weeks,” while some of the worker on-site said they expected the demolition to last at least a month.

The demolition crews started at the top, using a pair of cranes holding matching baskets — one for a demo crew, one for the debris they clear.  

“The guys in the man basket are sawing pieces of the roof off right now, to make it safe for them to work up there,” said Rocco DiSalvo, a project manager for Thackray Crane Rental. “They are throwing it in the other crane[‘s basket], and then we're bringing it on the ground, emptying out, then we have a machine on the ground putting it in the dumpster.”

The crews will work their way from the top down, said DiSalvo. “You have to make sure everything is secure up there before we start taking the rest down in pieces.”

    • A load of debris from 239 Chestnut St. fire is dumped onto Chestnut Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
      A load of debris from 239 Chestnut St. fire is dumped onto Chestnut Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
    • A crane lowers a load of debris from the roof of 239 Chestnut Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
      A crane lowers a load of debris from the roof of 239 Chestnut Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
    • A photo of the area around the 4-alarm fire at 239 Chestnut St taken on Feb. 19, one day after the fire broke out. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
      A photo of the area around the 4-alarm fire at 239 Chestnut St taken on Feb. 19, one day after the fire broke out. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
    • A Feb.19 photo of the area around the 4-alarm fire at 239 Chestnut Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
      A Feb.19 photo of the area around the 4-alarm fire at 239 Chestnut Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
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Almost all of 239 Chestnut Street was destroyed in the fire, and will be removed. Only the first floor facade, made of cast iron, will be salvaged. Neighboring 237 Chestnut Street will see its roof and part of the wall it shared with the burnt-out husk also removed. The buildings were both protected as part of the Old City historic district, which has seen five destructive fires in the 15 years since its creation. The cause of the fire remains under a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigation.

The fire and the lengthy stabilization and demolition process, which has closed the 200 block of Chestnut to automobile traffic and the area directly in front to foot traffic, have wreaked havoc on local businesses, said Old City District Executive Director Job Itzkowitz.

“We think about 20 or 25 businesses were directly impacted, meaning they had to close, they may have suffered some sort of smoke damage, or contents damage,” said Itzkowitz. “Of course, many more businesses were impacted further down each block in each direction and even the businesses a block or two away are feeling the loss of foot traffic stemming from the street closure.”

Itzkowitz noted that many nearby restaurants and shops on the block remain open, and urged residents to stop by during this difficult period. The Museum of the American Revolution also remains open.

About the author

Jim Saksa, Reporter

Jim Saksa is PlanPhilly's transportation reporter, which means he focuses on how Philly bikes, walks, drives, rolls, and rides around the region. 

Jim lives in Point Breeze and has also written for Slate, Philadelphia City Paper, and Technical.ly Philly. He tweets @Saksappeal and you can reach him at jsaksa@whyy.org.



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