1903 Chestnut Hill stone building demolished for townhouse development
June 28, 2022
Damian Garcia , a member of the IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers) Local 542, has been working in demolition for 20 some years and loves it. He may have single-handedly demolished the 1903 building at 30 West Highland Avenue in Chestnut Hill with a large powerful excavator, sometimes switching to a smaller bobcat bulldozer to move around piles of debris. (Of course he had a support team including laborer Melvin McClure who directed the action) According to an article in the April 28, 2021 Chestnut Hill Local, “The existing building was built in 1903 but does not qualify for historic preservation because of substantial changes made in the late 50s and early 60s. The plan is to tear down the original building and industrial garages, dig up the concrete drive and replace them with eight townhouses, 12 trees, a permeable-surface driveway, a 'pocket' park and a residential walkway with small lawns. The main issue for the neighbors, they said, is density. The proposal, they say, is too tall, too many houses.” The building had housed the EB O’Reilly HVAC business.
Over the course of about a week, Garcia brought down the structure and loaded most of the debris, which he had carefully separated into piles of wood, metal and stone into a dumpster truck. Garcia related that his company, Geppert Bros., Inc., had roots in Chestnut going back nearly 100 years when it was founded as Chestnut Hill Extraction. A short history of the related Geppert companies can be found bellow.
Before embarking on demolition Garcia studies the safety plan and determines the placement and orientation of the building’s trusses. Taking down a building is like solving a puzzle, he says and he takes it step by step. He often used an I-beam from the building as a poker securely held in the excavator’s grapple to brush the fragile stone wall, causing the pieces to crash down into dusty piles,“nibbling” away at it. He also used the large grapple to push over other sections of wall. For the second level wood flooring and the roof, he used the grapple’s large powerful jaws to take bites out of the structure. The main controls he uses are to raise and lower the boom, open and close the grapple’s jaws and to swing the boom left or right. After your correspondent complimented him on how delicately and skillfully he operated the excavator he demurred. “It’s not that hard but it is dangerous…the building could fall off on you, fall on somebody, hurt somebody. You just got to know what you’re doing.”
Interview of operating engineer and archival movies of the demolition process can be viewed by clicking here.
Still photos of the demolition can be found here.
Thanks to Alex Bartlett of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy for exploring the archives.
We have served the Greater Philadelphia area with the highest quality building materials for nearly 100 years. As times have changed, so has our business. We are continually adapting the way we work with our customers to ensure we’re meeting their needs through the right products and services.
In 1925, William A. Geppert Sr. formed Chestnut Hill Extraction. The patriarch of the Geppert family loved the demolition industry. He collected all sorts of materials from his demos including doors, windows, lumber, brick, stone, and nails. As he styarted to salvage these materials, he realized the value of reclaiming them for new projects.
During the Great Depression era, there was a strong need for affordable building materials in Philadelphia. He established a salvage yard near Roslyn to help meet the needs of those migrating from the city to the suburbs. Geppert’s revolutionary move to recycle and reuse materials helped both builders and homeowners afford homes and buildings that may otherwise have been out of reach.
Nearly three decades later, the salvage yard was taken over by James Geppert, William’s son, after his passing. James was commonly known as Gentleman Jim and shared the same vision with his father; to provide affordable materials to his community. This led him to transition the salvage yard into a full lumberyard, complete with a new hardware store and millwork. That’s how we developed into the Geppert Lumber you know today.
When a fire destroyed most of our outside warehouse in 1969, it didn’t stop Geppert Lumber from maintaining operations as usual. Jim rebuilt the warehouse and offices and kept the business afloat.
As the demand for new services grew, so did our offerings. We transitioned from a lumberyard to a full-service building material supplier.
In 2011, the Geppert family lost Jim to a battle with cancer. His legacy lives on through his family and the business he left behind. Every day, we do our best to honor Jim and the hard work and dedication he poured into this business."