As Nightingale Road resident Denise Schulz stood in her driveway and looked at the scene next door, she saw something in her neighbor’s back yard that gave her pause.
“Girls, I don’t think you should be in there,” Schulz called to a young girl who had somehow gotten through a cyclone fence the city had put up the day before and was on the adjacent property. Wide-eyed, the girl, about 12 years old, stopped in her tracks, turned and ran toward her friends outside the fence.
The girls had been walking along the new barrier on March 27, looking for a place to squeeze through or climb over to get onto the long-vacant property at 2815 Normandy Road, which was destroyed by fire on Jan. 24. Only a shell remains of what had once been a showplace when the development was new.
“It was a Normandy sample home,” Nightingale Road neighbor Donna Caristo said in an interview.
Now vacant for at least three years, the home attracted problems, and local residents have tried to get something done about what they called a neighborhood nuisance. Like houses on other streets throughout the city, once a home becomes vacant and the property becomes run down, it can become hard to get anything done about it. The property turns into a sore point for neighbors worried about safety hazards, vandalism and damage to their own property values.
In this case, something is finally being done. The house at 2815 Normandy will be subject to city demolition by April 30 if the owner doesn’t step up before then, said Maura Kennedy, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections.
The place has been vacant for three to five years, neighbors said. And although there are other vacant homes in Normandy, a small neighborhood of less than 500 households just east of the Boulevard between Comly and Woodhaven roads, 2815 Normandy has been, perhaps, more obvious than others. It’s a large corner property on the neighborhood’s main street. School buses stop nearby, and there’s a public mailbox out front.
When it was occupied, the property used to be noticed — and appreciated.
With its large yard and in-ground pool, it was “a picture-perfect back yard,” when it was owned by the Keefe family, Schulz said.
“When the old owners had it, it was like a country club. … It went downhill rather quickly,” after the Keefes moved out, she said.
City records list Jorge Oyola Jr. as the property’s owner. Neighbors say he lived there for a few years after purchasing the house in late 2006, but left the property sometime during the last three to five years.
The Northeast Times was unable to contact Oyola for comment. He has no listed phone number in Philadelphia. Kennedy said the city also has tried to contact Oyola by mail, but has not heard from him. The only address the city has for Oyola is 2815 Normandy. Kennedy said the city’s intention to tear down the house has been posted on the property.
Although the property has been vacant, its real estate taxes have been paid.
No one has lived there permanently since Oyola left, but the problems have been non-stop, neighbors said.
“It attracts kids,” said Schulz, who has lived on an abutting property for 25 years.
When the house became vacant, kids would skateboard in the empty pool, she said.
“You name it, they did it in that house,” said Caristo. Copper plumbing as been swiped, windows have been broken and somebody even poured cement into sinks and toilets, she said.
Caristo has lived with a view of 2815 Normandy since 1962, she said, and has seen the property go from one extreme to another.
Schulz and her daughter, Devin, said that, after Oyola moved out, people would use the property for parties. “They’d just throw some chlorine in the pool,” Schulz said of the people who would show up, party and leave.
The noisy parties stopped more than a year ago, Caristo said.
Neighbor Al Barth said kids have been running in and out of the place and partying there, too, and then there’s the wild-er life.
“Skunks and raccoons,” he said.
When the house became vacant, Caristo said, she thought it was just a matter of time before it would burn.
Barth said he reported the Jan. 24 fire, which he described as intense. A video of the fire posted on YouTube is a testament to how intense. In the video, the building can’t even be seen because of the flames.
“The lawn was on fire,” said John Wisniewski, president of the Normandy Civic Association.
Civic association members repeatedly have complained to police and local officials about the property.
“We’ve complained to anyone who would listen,” Wisniewski said March 28.
The complaints were heard. Acting on neighbors’ gripes and the urgings of Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th), the property repeatedly has been cleaned up and finally boarded up.
“It’s just a severe public nuisance,” said O’Neill, who said his staff has been handling complaints about the property for several years. “It’s been an eyesore and a problem.”
Numerous violations for high weeds, stagnant water, abandoned cars, rubbish and unsecured windows are cited on L&I’s Web site. The Community Life Improvement Program took care of those problems, and there is an outstanding bill for more than $13,000 for CLIP’s work that’s been sent to a collection agency, according to Deputy Managing Director Thomas Conway.
Kristine Owens, who lives seven houses away, said the teens she’s seen partying in the vacant house had kicked holes in the walls.
“It makes us sick,” she said. “We can see right through it.”
John Del Ricci, an aide to Councilman James Kenney (D-at large), said he’s been hearing beefs about 2815 Normandy for years, too, and so has 8th disttrict Lt. John Boyle.
The fire, however, has made the property more than a nuisance. The city now regards it as “imminently dangerous.”
“It’s burned beyond repair,” Kennedy said in an interview on March 25.
O’Neill on March 25 said he asked L&I to put a fence around the in-ground pool and then around the whole property to reduce its accessibility. The fence went up the next day, neighbors said.
If the city tears down 2815 Normandy, it will put a lien on the property to collect the demolition costs, Kennedy said. She couldn’t say exactly what those will be, she said, but added the average cost of knocking down a two-story Philadelphia row house is about $15,000.
The fire was investigated by the fire marshal, but the cause is undetermined, Executive Fire Chief Richard Davison wrote in a March 21 e-mail to the Northeast Times.
Even reducing the house to a burned husk hasn’t stopped the vandalism. Owens said in a March 21 phone interview that new graffiti appeared after the Jan. 24 fire. ••
Fire on the Net
The YouTube video of the Jan. 24 fire at 2815 Normandy Road can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc4c0kzfJ_8
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org