A month before 2136 Market St. collapsed, Stephen Field looked at the buildings being torn down on the block and envisioned a terrible fate.
Facades dangled over the sidewalk, workers without hard hats smashed crowbars into bricks, and nothing separated pedestrians or the nearby subway entrance from flying debris, he said.
So, on May 5, the 49-year-old Logan Square resident filed a complaint with the city's 311 website.
The demolition, he wrote, "appears to be clearly unsafe."
On May 14, Licenses and Inspections officials inspected an address Field provided in his complaint - 2134 Market St., next door - and dismissed Field's diagnosis, deeming the project safe to continue.
Now, with the area reduced to rubble, Field wonders how the city could allow the project to continue until it collapsed.
"I find it astonishing," he said Thursday. "I cannot fathom an explanation. . . . There's no question that, day after day, there were unsafe conditions at that building."
Field, a market researcher who walks along Market on his way to a coffee shop, was so upset after the collapse that he posted copies of his 311 complaints on the website Reddit on Wednesday night.
He also provided the e-mails to The Inquirer, saying he was "disturbed" by the behavior of city officials since the collapse.
"The idea that this is a one-time event that the city could not have foreseen is a most pathetic excuse," he said.
The mayor's press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday night.
Earlier Thursday, however, L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams did address the timeline of events surrounding Field's complaint. On May 5, according to e-mails Field supplied, Field filed his initial complaint, saying conditions at 2130 Market St. were unsafe.
A 311 official responded May 7 asking for more detail. Later that day, Field responded, this time listing 2134 as the location of his complaint.
On May 14, L&I officials inspected 2134 Market, Williams said Thursday, deeming the project safe to continue.
"It was 2134 that was under demolition and there were no unsafe conditions found at that time," Williams said, adding that demolition at 2136 was not underway May 14.
Field said he received a response from 311 via e-mail Wednesday, after the collapse. That e-mail said only that an L&I inspector visited the site May 14 and did not issue violation notices "because the property had valid permits posted for demolition and the contractor named on the permit was licensed." The e-mail did not address any safety concerns.
Field said Thursday that he saw work being done on all three buildings at the time of his complaint, calling the assertion that 2136 was not being demolished "a blatant inaccuracy."
"Without question, all of those buildings in that row - the old strip joint and porno house and former Hoagie City - were being demolished at the same time," he said, adding, "By May 14, there was extensive demolition that had been done on 2136."
Field also said the city was concentrating too intently on which address was inspected, saying that it was clear to any passerby that conditions at all three sites appeared unsafe.
"If the conversation is going to be a debate between 32, 34, 36, then the L&I commissioner has got a serious problem, which is not understanding construction," he said. "These are contiguous buildings. That's why they fell on one on the corner."
Field wishes the city would have heeded his warning. But he's simply upset, he said, at city officials deflecting blame for the preventable deaths of six people.
"That represents a real breach of responsibility on the part of the city," he said.
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 10:00 AM
Subject: Website 311 Form Submission
>The property 2130 Market Street is currently being demolished in a manner that appears to be clearly unsafe.
>>The workers are not wearing any safety equipment (not even hardhats while working to demolish brick facades with crowbars). The sidewalk is not adequately protected, and there appears to be no adequate plan to prevent the collapse of walls or facing materials onto pedestrians and those exiting the subway.
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2013 1:58 PM
To: stephenfield (address removed)
Subject: RE: Website 311 Form Submission
Dear Mr. Fields:
Thank you for contacting the City of Philadelphia's 311 Contact Center.
>The address you provided is not a valid address.
>Additionally, to process this request to have L&I inspect please answer the following:
>What is the legal address of the building/property?
What work is being done?
What time of day and/or day of the week is work being done?
Is a valid permit visible?
Who is doing the work?
>Again, thank you for contacting us regarding this issue. Please let us know if you have any further questions.
Philly 311 Contact Center
From: stephen field (mailto:stephenfield (address removed))
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2013 2:16 PM
Subject: RE: Website 311 Form Submission
There are several buildings currently being demolished on the south side of the 2100 block of Market Street.
>What is the legal address of the building/property?: 2134 Market Street
What work is being done?: Demolision
What time of day and/or day of the week is work being done?: I last observed work being done on May 6 at 9am.
Is a valid permit visible?: No
Who is doing the work?: There are no signs or indications on vehicles or individuals to tell me who is doing the work.
>I do hope that you manage to convey this information to L&I prior to a building collapse that leads to an injury of someone working on this building or to someone waiting for a bus or exiting the subway at that corner.
-------- Original Message Subject: RE: Website 311 Form Submission
From: Philly311 (email@example.com)
To: Stephen Field (stephenfield (address removed))
Good afternoon Mr. Field,
We received your complaint for 2134 Market Street and entered a service request for Licenses and Inspections (L&I) on 5/8/13. The reference number for that request is 2896427. An L&I inspector visited the construction site on 5/14/13. No violations were issued because the property had valid permits posted for demolition and the contractor named on the permit was licensed. Our apologies that you did not receive this information when the request was entered but we wanted to ensure that a request was taken and forwarded for inspection by L&I, the proper servicing department.
Philly311 Subject Matter Expert
Editor's note: There is no time stamp on this last email, but Stephen Field says that it was received June 5.