Richard Basciano, the principal owner of what was left of a building near Market and 22d Streets, was "SHOCKED" at how long its demolition was taking, according to an e-mail from his property manager to his architect. What's really shocking is that the botched job ended up killing six people and injuring 14 when a wall collapsed onto a neighboring thrift store.
From the application for a demolition permit to the collapse of the building in a haze of dust and destruction, there were serious questions about this job.
The Inquirer's Bob Warner reviewed a series of e-mails that shed light on one question: Why didn't a contractor halt the demolition after workers and others raised serious safety concerns about the Salvation Army store next door? It was in part because of the pressure to get the job done quickly.
But there was no sense of urgency during the years when Basciano sat on several shabby buildings near 22d and Market, a dead zone that included a porn theater. When the surrounding neighborhood began to thrive, though, the land suddenly became valuable.
Experts say demolitions next to occupied buildings should be done by hand. A grand jury found that this job was done that way until the contractor brought in an 18-ton excavator, which proved too rough for the fragile wall.
E-mails from the days before collapse show mounting pressure and an alarming sense of arrogance among those who stood to profit from a quick job. On May 22, a Basciano consultant suggested repeating a request to the Salvation Army for access to the store's roof to aid in demolition. Basciano's property manager responded, "Why? Waste more time? Wait for someone to be killed? You can do what you want but I am NOT backing off with these people and their half-baked charity. Perhaps you have the time and/or desire to 'deal' with their idiotic behavior: I don't and I won't. I have to look after the interests of the Owners - Richard and his daughters."
Prosecutors and plaintiffs' lawyers argue that the wall collapsed because safety was sacrificed to get the job done cheaply. The grand jury found that demolition contractor Griffin Campbell had workers strip out joists that he sold for $6 to $8 apiece. No wonder the unsupported wall came down.
Ultimately, the courts will decide how responsible Basciano and his team are. So far, Campbell and an excavator operator have been charged in the deaths. But the probe continues, which is appropriate, because these men were not alone. They were part of a long chain of failures to prevent a disaster.
Some good can come of this tragedy if the city stops tolerating an entrenched culture of property speculators with little concern for Philadelphia's well-being. Before the collapse, the city's Department of License and Inspections wasn't required to inspect continuing demolition jobs. Now, as a result of the collapse, it is. Mayor Nutter and City Council have taken steps to raise safety standards. They must ensure they're enforced by giving L&I the staff and training it needs.