Stone panel falls five stories in Center City

June 3, 2009 3:33:53 PM PDT
A busy stretch of Walnut Street in Center City Philadelphia remains closed after a huge stone slab fell from a building early Wednesday morning.A large chunk of granite, weighing some 1,000 pounds, fell from the facade of 1619 Walnut Street and shattered in the street.

Amazingly, no one was underneath at the time.

It plunged five stories at around 6:45 a.m. If it had happened an hour later, there would likely have been many people on the sidewalk on their way to work.

"We just heard a real loud bang. We looked out the window and saw a cloud of dust going by," said witness Aaron Marshall. "I came out and there were bricks all over the street."

"I thought maybe a bus hit the wall because it was so loud. Maybe a bomb, I don't know. It was really, really loud," said witness Laqueta Gibbs.

Hundreds of pieces, large and small, were scattered all over the street and sidewalk. Some even broke windows on their way down.

The building has a rich history. The six story art deco structure was building in 1937 and is on the national register of historic buildings.

Westinghouse, CBS and NBC all used to occupy the building. So did the Mike Douglas show, which included a segment with a young Tiger Woods.

More recently, Temple University held classes there, and up until New Year's Day was the home of the elegant Brasserie Perrier restaurant.

The building is currently up for sale, and the listing real estate agent was set to meet with a potential tenant later in the day.

"I was supposed to show property to E3 Bank, for a potential bank building," said Ron Blum of Zukim Realty. "Of course my reaction was 'I'm not sure I'll be able to show that property today!"

The block has been closed to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic ever since. That didn't stop some people from trying to get through, and Action News was on the scene as police took down a bicylist who was trying to get through the closed-off area.

City inspectors brought out a crane to take a closer look at the facade. They also want to take a look at the area above what fell, because they believe that may be in danger of collapse as well.

They hope to have that section of Walnut Street open again by Tuesday morning.

As for why the stone panel fell: Experts say it may be a process that took place over several decades, adding the strong storms that blew through early this morning may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

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