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1903 Chestnut Hill stone building demolished for townhouse development

30 west highland demolished for CU


Garcia demolitionDamian 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.

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New construction will shadow historic Chestnut Hill Baptist Church cemetery


Neighbor of chestnut hill baptist church cemetery

Chestnut hill baptist church and graveyardA man who lives in the house alongside the historic cemetery behind the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church regularly clears the flat and worn gravestones of leaves and other debris.

He gave your correspondent and buddy an impromptu tour. Pointing out different graves, “He was at Gettysburg. The fella over here was at the battle of Little Round Top. You can see it by the 20th Volunteers Main. The 20th Main was the line Chamberlain and his men did that right handed [ ] like a swinging door move to stop the Confederates from getting the hill; it won the day....This gentleman here is a veteran of the War of 1812.” He pointed out headstones for the Sands family which he believes was prominent in the early days of the church.

Some of the graves are partially grown over with grass and there may be others that are totally covered over. See photo album here.

The man says the cemetery is a kind of common ground for the neighborhood. People come through, some walk their dogs, children play. Referring to imminent construction of an apartment complex on the former Sunoco site, adjacent, “They’re going to block it out when they put this building up… I think it’s five stories. It’s a pity, huh? " See article about the new construction here.

More information about the history of the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church can be found on the church’s website here The Chestnut Hill Conservancy’s archives are rich with historical information. According to notes attached to a 1945 photo of J.S Jenks school students, children attending Christian Youth Brigade meetings at the church would play in the graveyard. The Conservancy also houses an 86-page, 1898 book by Robert Milville Hunsicker, “Chestnut Hill Baptist Church 1834-1897 Glimpses of Sixty-three Years” and a 2001 publication “ Tombstone inscriptions at two Chestnut Hill church cemeteries: Chestnut Hill Baptist and Chestnut Hill Methodist” by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania listing the churches gravestone inscriptions.  Watch video interview about historic Chestnut Hill Baptist Church cemetery here. A list of those interred follows

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Finds from a collapsed dairy barn

Dairy barn farmstand


Chey bouson dairy barnChey Bouson is helping her friends Lexi and Roger rehabilitate a property that was once home to a large dairy farm in Quakertown, PA. In recent years, major storms have badly damaged the barn and the roof has now collapsed so it may have to be taken down. Meanwhile, they are carefully taking out of the barn anything they can find that is unbroken. They have retrieved doors, cabinets and a wagon they’ve since refurbished. These finds populate the eclectic farm stand they’ve set up along the roadside. In addition to the salvage operation, they now have seventy chickens on the property and are considering adding pigs.Her friends explore abandoned places all the time, Bouson says and she’s an explorer, too. Originally from New York, she would regularly travel down to Virginia to scavenge around abandoned asylums and prisons.

Your correspondent came away with a cactus plant and a very long glass milk tube he hadn’t yet figured out what he would do with. Watch video interview here with abandoned place explorer

 

Chey inside barn


SEPTA bus and aerial bucket lift collide; "no major injuries"

Septa bus  aerial lift collision

On October 7, 2021, a SEPTA bus traveling south on Germantown Avenue came into contact with the elbow joint of an aerial lift holding painters doing work on the “One West”midrise complex just above Hartwell Lane. The roof of the SEPTA bus appeared to be badly mangled and a SEPTA employee at the scene said that a “crane” had “fallen on the bus.” Matt Spector, VP of Operations for Bowman Properties, owner of the property, in a statement released later on social media, said that Bowman has owned and operated the lift to do maintenance on its properties for years without incident and that the lift was parked, in contact with the curb, surrounded by safety cones and stationary at the time of impact. “The lift didn’t fall. The bus ran into the elbow joint that was sticking out over the street. I happened upon the scene not long after it occurred, when the lift was still there,” posted a Mount Airy neighbor on social media. “Fortunately there were no major injuries,” added David Hoylman, Director of Leasing for Bowman. Spector declined to share security camera footage of the incident or elaborate about the injuries to Bowman personnel, passengers or driver or about precautions being taken to prevent future, potentially serious injurious, collisions of this kind. A right-to-know request has been filed with SEPTA. See more photos here.

Watch a video of the accident scene shortly after the accident.


Going solar with car and house

Solar for canva

A renewable energy advocate and practitioner, Aaron Stemplewicz showed off both his house and his Tesla Model 3 for the National Solar House Tour on October 3, 2021. On multiple sections on the roof of his house in Wyndmoor, Pa he has a 16 panel, 5 kilowatt hour system. In 2016, he entered a Power Purchase Agreement with Solar City (now part of Tesla.) It cost him nothing to install or maintain. Now he is exercising his contract option to purchase the system outright. He has crunched the data and figures the purchase will make money for him eventually.

Next year, he says, Volkswagen, Hyundai and other manufacturers are introducing electric cars with bidirectional batteries. These big batteries will be able to act as backup power to a house like his . (His current Tesla has only a grid to car battery.) He advises people who are thinking of getting battery backup for their house to wait and buy such an electric car if they can swing it. The upfront cost of an electric car is much greater but Stemplewicz did lifetime analyses of the total cost to maintain an electric car versus a gas-powered vehicle. He deduced that the cost of his Tesla was comparable to that of operating the Subaru Impreza he was driving before.Stemplewicz’ electric cost is based on a time of use scheme. He pays approximately 19 cents per watt at peak time and, the rest of day, about 4 cents. Between midnight and 3 am, it goes down further to 3 cents. He touts the advantage of being able to rely on his own solar power during peak time and, if he generates more energy than he needs, selling back to the grid at 19 cents. By charging his car at night he captures the low rates. “So it will be super cheap to charge the car and I sell back to the grid at 19 cents. Can’t beat it!”

Watch video interview about renewable energy advocate with solar panels on his roof and and electric car.


We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

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More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking


Rainfall increases, basement waterproofing jobs too!

Cu waterproof basement

Pete Golascewski and a workmate from David Brothers Landscape Services brothers were about to clean off a lower wall of a house and patch and seal it after excavating a 3 foot deep trench alongside it. Water had been coming into the house. An engineer suggested the project to stop the infiltration. The trench will be filled with a clay soil which is less penetrable than the naturally existing soil. The soil will be put down in layers, sloping away from the house. The work crew will also install new window wells. Golascewski says these jobs have become ever more frequent in recent years because of very heavy rain falls. He doesn’t profess to be a scientist but nevertheless believes the heavy rainfalls contributing to the burgeoning demand for this type of landscape construction work can be attributed to climate change. Watch video interview of landscaper describing basement waterproofing construction job here.


Chestnut Hill Library Friends open bookstore to public (softly)

Hilltop books royal table
Today, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library opened their new bookstore, “Hilltop Books” at 84 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim. A handful of the 100 some volunteers were on hand to welcome customers. Trading as “Hilltop Books”, the beautifully restored, high ceiling-ed space offers rooms and bookcases divided by subject area, many curated by subject specialists! Initially, books are being sold at 1/3 of the price on the jacket. Today’s opening was to give people who had ordered “blind date” Valentine’s Day/“Galentine’s” Day books another chance to pick them up. Until the expected official opening in mid-March, the store will be open by appointment only. The Friends bookstore has big hopes. An outdoor patio is planned to accommodate 50 people and the store wishes to offer coffee and pastries. And there are all sorts of book clubs in the works- murder mystery, cooking, garden, storytelling, family game night, birthday..Something for everyone. Photo album here.

(The British Royalty collection is being curated by a subject of her Majesty)


Real estate heirs plan big apartment building on former Sunoco station lot

Real estate heirs 10 Bethlehem Pike
Brothers Max and Zachary Frankel are scions of E J Frankel Enterprises started by their great grandfather. (Grandfather shown in picture courtesy of Legacy.com/Inquirer. ) The firm developed the Philadelphian and other properties of note and has diverse interests in Florida. They plan a dense development at the site of the former Sunoco station at the highest point in Philadelphia, Bethlehem Pike and Summit Avenue just off of Germantown Avenue in the tony Chestnut Hill Neighborhood. Doing business apparently as TPM LLC or 10 Bethlehem Pike, they plan a 4 or 5 story 34 unit luxury apartment building which their architect Sergio Coscia says will preserve sight lines of the historic Baptist Church of Chestnut Hill. Neighbors expressed alarm at the size of the project at a well attended community meeting on February 16. Chestnut Hill’s major property owner, Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties whose own multi-story residential complex a few blocks away had met similar community push
back, expressed reservations about the aesthetics. See photos of building and site plans, elevations, schemes etc here.

10 bethlehem pike participants

 

 


On boarded up Chestnut Hill storefronts, store owner writes messages of hope

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, most businesses along the Germantown Avenue business corridor (excluding some of the vacant ones ) had been securely boarded up in the wake of widespread protests and looting elsewhere in the city. The Weavers Way Coop market, which has a wide expanse of windows, was a notable exception. (The Coop's General Manager, Jon Roesser, explains its decision not to board up below.) When asked why he was boarding up the Wells Fargo Bank a workman replied "It's a job. Do you think I like doing this? It's sad."

No boards pie paintsJoe Pie of McNally's Tavern, was putting a new coat of dark green paint on the entrance door (No boarding up to do because the tavern hasn't had windows on the narrow facade for more than fifty years.) He said that businesses along the Avenue had been "cased" the day before and was very alarmed should any photos be posted on social media. Bohemian Pink owner Monika Schermer said her store was boarded up based on the advice of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and the 14th District Philadelphia Police. Schermer directed questions to the Business Association. Its Executive Director Phil Dawson could not be reached for comment.

Boarded fresh marketOutside the Fresh Market at 7 pm, a market employee stood outside watching two workmen prepare to board up the doors. He relayed that the CVS, farther down the street, had been broken into. Talking on the phone, one of these workers could be heard saying he would be back at the store in the morning to take the boards off so the store could open for business. "Hopefully I'm going to be putting these boards on and off for a couple days."

Boarded black lives matterLarge, delicately lettered chalk messages have already appeared on some of the boards. "Love lives here" on one and "Community" on another. Hillary O'Carroll proprietress of Isabella Sparrow, captured in a photo in the below tweet, is behind the heartwarming words. She says she wanted to add non-political messages of love and home by writing on the the boards. The one shown above "Black Lives Matter - donate: NAACP.ORG & phillybailfund.org" she attributes to an employee of Caleb Meyer.

Ocarroll chalking boards

On the Tailored Home store, O'Carroll's message is simply "This is home"

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Comments of John Roesser, GM of Weavers Way Cooperative Association

Driving down Gtown Ave this morning, it seems we're part of a vanishing minority of businesses who've chosen not to board up; lumber yards must be rejoicing.  
 
For starters, please know I don't question the motives of other business owners.  Whatever drove them to decide to board up, I'm sure it made sense for them.  I understand PPD recommends boarding up businesses as a precaution.  PPD would have no reason to recommend anything different.  And they are busy and hard pressed and I'm sure not just a little tired by now.  
 
Our principal reason for not boarding up was consideration of our staff and customers.  Still in the midst of the pandemic, grocery shopping is already a stressful activity (working in a grocery store is even worse).  The masks and the hand sanitizer and the social distancing and the 15 person customer cap, it's all disconcerting enough.  Boarding up our windows would aggravate the stress.  Our Chestnut Hill store is small.  Boarding up the windows would block out the natural light and make it feel even smaller.  Who wants to work in a plywood box?  
 
In making this decision I had 100% support from the Co-op's management team and 100% support from our Chestnut Hill employees (at least the 25 or so with whom I spoke on Sunday and Monday).  Last night I received 100% affirmation of the decision from our board of directors who, as you know, are democratically elected by the Co-op's 10,000 member households.  
 
Having spent much of yesterday in Chestnut Hill chatting with customers (masked and 6 feet apart!) I received thumbs up from all of them.  Many expressed dismay at the acres of plywood along the avenue.  One out of four households in Chestnut Hill are member-owners of the Co-op.  They patronize other businesses on the avenue too.  
 
Yesterday's demonstrations were largely peaceful.  Things could change but the folks who are out protesting the murder of George Floyd and demanding the end of institutional racism are not vandals or looters.  PPD is as always hard at work tracking down the bad actors who are taking advantage of the demonstrations (and undermining the demonstrator's message) by causing mayhem.  It is too early to say but we can perhaps be hopeful that the worst of the looting is over.  
 
I have to say, again not questioning the motives - or the politics - of other business owners, the sight of all those boarded up buildings along the avenue is unnerving.  And it can't be good for business.  I do hope the other businesses along the avenue will consider taking the boards down sooner rather than later.  
 
It will take one hooligan, armed with a brick and a strong arm, to make us look like fools.  Maybe we are fools. "