Demolition Process at Historic Old City Building Destroyed by Fire Slowly Begins

The demolition of 239 Chestnut Street is being seen as a step forward for those looking to rebuild and reopen. No exact timetable has been given for how long the process will take.

What to Know

  • The dismantling of 239 Chestnut Street will take place once surrounding properties are shored up & the ATF enters the building.
  • The blaze left people and businesses displaced for weeks. The demolition is seen as a step toward recovery.
  • No exact timetable has been given for how long the process will take.

An Old City Philadelphia building will finally be coming down more than a month after a four-alarm fire gutted the historic structure but the dismantling process is getting off to a slow start.

Two cranes — one to remove debris and the other to lower workers using a construction basket — were in place Tuesday to start systemically taking down 239 Chestnut Street.

As of midday Tuesday, dismantling of the fire-damaged structure had yet to begin as crews instead focused attention on removing part of the side wall and roof from the adjacent 237 Chestnut building to safely shore it up ahead of 239 Chestnut being taken down.

The 239 building, which housed residences and businesses, was gutted by an aggressive fire on Feb. 18. The blaze left residents out of their homes and some businesses closed. No people were hurt in the fire but some pets died.

Fire and water damaged two attached historic buildings. The demolition was put on a hold for weeks due to structural concerns, causing continued trouble for surrounding businesses and residents. 

One neighboring business, The Little Lion restaurant, has been closed since the fire. The demolition is an important step forward for people in the neighborhood who can start to look at rebuilding and getting back to a sense of normal.

Demolition crews will be tearing down 239 Chestnut Street, an apartment building that burned about a month ago. Construction crews expect to start the demolition around Tuesday morning.

No exact demolition timetable was given. Earlier, the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections said demolition would take at least a week as construction crews knocked down what's left of the six-story building, built in the 19th-century.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has yet to reveal a cause for the fire. The ATF's hope to enter the damaged structure has been delayed. ATF investigators had yet to enter 239 on the ground as of Tuesday morning.

L&I deemed the building imminently dangerous in the wake of the fire, but retained outside engineers to see if the building's brownstone, plaster and cast-iron façade could be salvaged.

An analysis determined the upper floor façade of brownstone and plaster was beyond repair, an L&I spokeswoman said, but the first floor cast-iron façade will be saved.

Chestnut Street will be closed between 4th and Bank streets and 3rd Street will be closed between Walnut and Chestnut streets during the demolition process. People accessing museums in the area can do so on 4th Street, L&I said.

Chestnut Street from 235 Chestnut to 3rd Street will be closed to pedestrians as well.

A 3D laser scan of the building's remaining structure will help inform architects designing a new building for the site, L&I said.

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