The vacant Hoagie City building was a danger to the public for weeks before an unsupported wall fell and crushed the Salvation Army thrift store next door in 2013, a structural engineer testified Tuesday.
D. Kirk Harman, president of the Harman Group, based in King of Prussia, was the first witness called as testimony resumed in the Philadelphia civil trial of lawsuits filed after the June 5 demolition site collapse that crushed the store at 22nd and Market Streets.
"This building, starting in mid-May, was in a state that was dangerous and certainly at risk of collapse all the way through June 4," testified Harman, whose firm has worked on the Revel Resort & Casino in Atlantic City and the residential-mixed use tower 3601 Market in University City.
Jeffrey P. Goodman, a plaintiffs' attorney, showed Harman a photo of the Hoagie City building on May 16, 2013, taken from the rear by a carpenter working on the roof of the taller Mutter Museum across Ludlow Street.
The photo, projected for the Common Pleas Court jury on a large courtroom screen, shows a cavernous hole going down at least two stories where demolition workers had removed the floors, beams, and joists of the more than 120-year-old building.
According to trial testimony, demolition contractor Griffin Campbell was removing the old wooden beams and joists to sell on the recycling market. But removing the building's skeleton also took away the support stabilizing its brick walls.
On June 5, 2013, as an 36,000-pound excavator was picking at part of the building, an unbraced three- to four-story brick walled toppled and destroyed the thrift store. Six people were killed and 13 injured, one of whom died 23 days later.
"If I had been shown what's in that photo on May 16, as a structural engineer I would have felt compelled to tell people at the Salvation Army and the building department L&I [the Department of Licenses and Inspections] that there is a dangerous condition," Harman said.
In the months before the collapse, the owners of the Hoagie City building, real estate speculator Richard Basciano and his STB Investments Corp., and the Salvation Army had been disputing how to demolish the building without damaging the thrift store or forcing it to close for a time.
Both sides hired architects to review various aspects of the demolition, but no one hired a structural engineer to review the soundness of the demolition plan.
Lawyers for STB and Basciano had tried to block Harman from testifying, arguing in part that city regulations in 2013 did not require an engineering survey before demolition.
Harman, however, argued that even in 2013 it was standard practice in the industry to have a structural engineer review plans to demolish any multistory building.
Peter A. Greiner, a lawyer representing STB and Basciano, challenged Harman's appraisal of the building's potential for collapse.
Greiner showed Harman a photo of demolition workers on the top floor of the Hoagie City building after the roof and some joists had been removed. He asked if removing a few more joists would cause the building to collapse under the workers.
"That's not the test," Harman responded. "Because they were lucky."
The exchange between Greiner and Harman grew increasingly testy as Greiner questioned why a building "in imminent danger of collapse" didn't fall before June 5. Greiner suggested it fell only because the excavator operator pushed it over.
Harman called Benschop's act "the final straw" and said the wall's collapse was "inevitable."
Harman's testimony occurred during the trial's seventh week, and plaintiffs' attorneys said they expect to complete their case Thursday. The trial then will shift to the defense.