How long does it take to demo a 19th-century building? Better question: How long to take down seven of them?
Before 10 AM on Monday (May 6) an Albany-based demolition company, DiTonno & Sons, set up to take down 56 through 68 Lexington Avenue. Before the sun set, only one building on the block was standing, and the other seven were piles of debris.
While rumors circulated that the utilities to the buildings were cut last week, bystanders were surprised to see the long-vacated properties ripped down so quickly.
“We had a complaint on this building, we contacted Russ Reeves, who is an independent engineer, we came over with the fire department and Russ Reeves, he did an analysis, and said that they were imminent danger of collapse and an imminent danger to public safety, so we declared them an emergency, and contacted the emergency demolition contractors,” said Jeffrey Jamison, Albany’s commissioner of buildings and regulatory compliance. “They all came over, made an assessment; nobody could enter the building pursuant to the engineer because you couldn’t enter safely and do any repair. We took all bids and awarded the contract and they came over and started the demolition.” This all happened, he said, that very morning.
The crew started at one end of the block, and with heavy machinery, punched a hole in each of the building’s fronts. Then, at the other end, the real razing began.
One man with a large hose sprayed water at each site, but the effort didn’t completely contain particles that escaped into the air. The buildings were likely to have contained lead and asbestos, among other toxic substances. Located a half a block away is the Sheridan Preparatory Academy, a school for children in pre-k through fifth grade.
“Early this morning every single person that was walking by was thanking us,” said Jamison. Some of those watching the demolition expressed gratitude that the “eyesores” were gone. Others were less than happy.
Neighbors from the Historic Albany Foundation fell into the latter category. Genny Faist, membership and program coordinator at HAF, watched the destruction with horror. “I just saw a beautiful built-in mantle come down from the second floor,” she said. “There’s a pair of French doors, you know how easy that would be for us to pop them off and walk half a block down the street to put them in the warehouse? If that’s all that we can preserve of the history that’s standing here, we should have been given the opportunity to do that.”
“We know the buildings had some distress, there’s an owner who said that they wanted to have three torn down, that was six months ago,” Susan Holland, HAF’s executive director, said. “I’m getting a call everyday from somebody who can do these buildings, but nobody will let them and they just end up falling into the abyss and then they tear them down.”
She added, “I’m wondering what’s going on with this site, I’m hoping they have the funding to put back the buildings or we’ll be looking at another seven vacant lots. A lot of the neighbors think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think they realize all the garbage and stuff that ends up on their properties eventually.”
Three of the buildings were owned by Albany Community Action Partnership, and their site was thought to be slated—with no certain date—for a Head Start program and day care. Albany County owned one property, and the three other buildings are believed to be privately owned.
Requests to Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s and Albany County Legislature Majority Leader Frank Commisso Sr.’s office for future plans for the site yielded little results. Both offices indicated that the county only owned one property. Calls to Jamison’s office also failed to produce any solid answers on how Albany, whether city or county, intends to fill this hole.