Monday was a beautiful day to erase an eyesore.
At 7 a.m., the skies were blue; the temperatures still were mild, and neighbors were glad to see the vacant house at 2815 Normandy Drive torn to the ground.
There wasn’t much left of it anyway. The property, once a neighborhood showplace, had been gutted by fire on Jan. 24 and deemed “imminently dangerous” by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Five months later — to the day — the charred structure came tumbling down.
“I know the community is happy,” said Robert Craig of Nestling Road as he watched the demolition. “Hopefully, the lot will be put up for sale and somebody will build a nice house there.”
Two workers from Geppert Bros. of Colmar, Montgomery County — one operating an excavator fitted with a grappler — began tearing down the remains of the house shortly after 7 a.m. In about an hour, while neighbors came out to watch, the structure was torn apart and pounded into rubble.
All that was left to do was to remove the debris and fill in the swimming pool.
“I saw it go up, and now I see it go down,” said Frank Faranca, a longtime Normandy resident who lives across the street.
During the last few years, the house on a corner lot with an in-ground pool had become a neighborhood nuisance, the subject of numerous complaints to L&I, public officials and police. Neighbors had worried about safety hazards, vandalism and damage to their own property values.
“There were a lot of issues before the fire,” said City Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.), who watched the demolition along with an aide, Bill Rapone.
The councilman said it was the first time in more than three decades in office that he has seen a home in his district torn down. “A couple apartment houses, but never a home before,” he said.
It took some prodding to get the city to raze the building, O’Neill said in an earlier interview. The house had a long history as a neighborhood showplace, and a relatively short one as a neighborhood annoyance.
“It’s a shame about this,” neighbor Pat Soda said as she and grandson Timmy Thomson, 2, watched the house come down. “It should never have gotten to this. It used to be beautiful.”
The house had been vacant for three to five years, neighbors said. And although there are other vacant homes in Normandy, a small, well-kept neighborhood of less than 500 households just east of the Boulevard between Comly and Woodhaven roads, 2815 Normandy has been 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.
The Jan. 24 fire was intense, neighbors said. In a video of the fire posted on YouTube, the flames engulf the house.
“The fire shot right out the front door,” neighbor Sean Murphy said on June 21 in an interview outside his home.
“The lawn was on fire,” John Wisniewski, president of the Normandy Civic Association, said earlier.
It was after the fire that the city declared the property “imminently dangerous.”
“It’s burned beyond repair,” L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said in March 25 interview.
Long before the flames, civic association members repeatedly had complained to police and local officials about the property.
Acting on neighbors’ gripes and the urgings of O’Neill, the property repeatedly has been cleaned up and finally boarded up.
“There have been many problems,” Normandy resident Michele Borbidge said. “It’s been an eyesore.”
She brought her camera to record the demolition.
“I’m happy it’s coming down,” she said. “Maybe, we’ll get some nice new neighbors.”
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, Deputy Managing Director Thomas Conway said in March.
Neighbor Al Barth on Monday said that, if he had wanted to sell his nearby house, the state of 2815 Normandy would have made the sale impossible.
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.
There never seemed to be a doubt the house would be torn down, but who would arrange the work — the city, the owner or the mortgage company —and when the demolition would actually take place remained unanswered questions.
On June 20, O’Neill said L&I would pay for the demolition out of its budget. He also said he arranged for PECO to shut off power so the work could proceed. On June 21, workers drained the pool in preparation for Monday’s wrecking crew.
Kennedy has said the city would put a lien on the property to collect the demolition costs.
According to the city’s online property records, 2815 Normandy Drive was purchased in 2006 by Jorge Oyola Jr. for $285,000. The 2013 taxable assessment on the property was $27,264 and the taxes, which were paid, were $2,663.97.
The city’s 2014 assessment on the property is $97,000.
Also according to city records, there currently are no liens on the property.
Oyola has no listed number in Philadelphia and could not be reached for comment. Murphy, who knew Oyola, said Oyola told him a few years ago that he was moving to Florida because winters in Philadelphia bothered injuries he had sustained in an auto accident. ••