One Year Later: Residents Weigh in on Life After Deadly Center City Building Collapse

People have mixed emotions about the creation of a memorial park on the site

Janice Murphy has been living in Center City for more than 13 years. Like many other residents and workers in the downtown neighborhood, the 76-year-old says time has not yet healed the emotional wounds that the June 2013 deadly building collapse at 22nd and Market Streets left behind.

It was one year ago today, at 10:41 a.m., when the outer wall of a building under demolition at 2136 Market Street toppled over onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store beside it, leaving six people dead and injuring 13 others.

Murphy remembers feeling her building shake, hearing a loud boom and seeing plumes of dust billowing outside the windows of her apartment building just across the street from the site of the deadly collapse.

The woman and her boyfriend came to the south corner of Market Street that morning and watched in horror as police and fire rescue units began digging through debris in search of survivors. She was still there watching 13 hours later, when a firefighter pulled Mary Plekan out of the building's remnants. Plekan had been trapped, her legs pinned beneath a beam and debris.

"The last woman they got out, we saw them pull her out," Murphy said. "And we watched, me and my boyfriend. I said, 'Oh my god, they’re bringing a woman up from in the basement.' I couldn’t believe she was alive."

"She wound up losing both her legs. It was just so tragic. That’s the most tragic thing I’ve ever seen. I'll never forget it."

Today, the collapse site is a mere plot of dirt surrounded by chainlink perimeter fencing. Tied to the fences are flowers, miniature American flags, and a 'Coming Soon' banner announcing the creation of a memorial park, which some residents say, may not necessarily be a good idea.

The idea for the park was fueled by an online petition and fundraising campaign created by Nancy Winkler. The city treasurer and bereaved mother of collapse victim Anne Bryan, garnered more than 6,200 petition signatures and raised more than $26,000 toward construction costs for the park.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is among members of the newly formed 22nd & Market Memorial Committee, an all-volunteer group dedicated to funding the creation of the park.

PHS chief of staff Nancy Goldenberg said the nonprofit organization is helping the committee with both conceptual design and fundraising efforts with hopes of having the park completed by spring 2015.

"We’re intending to create a contemplative park using high quality elements, blue stone paving, some large benches, as well as living elements such as flowers and trees" Goldenberg said.

Thursday, Mayor Michael Nutter, victims' family members, and members of the 22nd & Market Memorial Committee hosted an event at the future park site to commemorate the one year anniversary of the collapse.

On Wednesday, passersby could be seen taking photos and looking on as city workers prepped the site for the event, which included a ceremonial tree planting.

While she's all for honoring the victims of the collapse, clothing store manager Jennifer Schwartz says she doesn't think a memorial park will be good for the neighborhood.

"I think it's an odd location for a park. Not to say the memorial isn’t a nice thing to do but maybe they could’ve done something on the sidewalk or made something else prominent to remember them by," Schwartz said. "That’s a big lot and I think they could've done something really great with it. I just don’t think it’s the greatest idea."

Karim Sariahmed, who also works in Center City, said people he's talked to are just relieved that the site is not being used for a new development.

"I think there’s definitely a sentiment among people who were like, 'Oh, god, they're gonna put a 7/11 in there or something like that.' So I think people are glad that it won't be becoming just another site for development because it was pretty traumatic for a lot of people," he said.

West Philadelphia resident Cindy Miller says she walks dogs in Center City all of the time. In her opinion, the memorial park is a great idea.

"I think its an excellent idea," Miller said. "I support it. It's the least that the city can do."

Murphy, who frequently comes to the corner of 22nd and Ludlow Streets to feed birds outside of the Mutter Museum, said she hopes she'll be able to do the same at the new memorial park when it opens.

"I think it's a good idea, to remember those people,"  she said. "If they allow it, yeah, I'll probably go there, feed my birds and just think."

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