Condemned warehouse falls

This 100-year-old warehouse in Chester, owned by Dick Blair, collapsed early Thursday morning.
This 100-year-old warehouse in Chester, owned by Dick Blair, collapsed early Thursday morning.

CHESTER -- The creaking noises at the old tin warehouse started Wednesday evening, neighbors said.

The building at the corner of Chester's Walnut Street and Lynwood Avenue groaned so loudly that parents told their children not to ride bikes near the decrepit place that had been condemned three months ago.

Sixty-year-old Matthew McCoy Jr. couldn't sleep through the snaps and cracks and moved his motorized wheelchair to the porch. There he watched the noisy building where he once made a living hauling fertilizer.

Around 2 a.m. Thursday, a boom jolted the street. Then, nothing but dust and darkness.

"(Neighbors) thought it was a bomb," he said. "We didn't know what was going on."

Authorities said no one was inside the warehouse when it collapsed, and no one was hurt in the aftermath.

Police and firefighters actually didn't receive a call until minutes after 6:30 a.m., authorities said. When they arrived, they found about half of the building lying in a pile of debris.

Chester Fire Marshal Jamie Leonard said the collapse likely came from "years of deterioration." He was told the building was about 100 years old.

Dick Blair, who runs a swimming pool company just up the road on Gadsden Street, owned the warehouse, authorities said. He could not be reached for comment.

The building was condemned about three months ago because the roof was sinking and a wall was buckling, said Mack Paul, the county's planning director.

Paul said he told Blair to remove any items from the building. He shut off the power and posted red signs warning people to stay out.

But the building still had some materials and equipment in it Thursday.

Now, Paul said, he wants an engineer to go with him and Blair to look at the property. He needs to know if the still-standing portion is structurally sound before allowing anyone to retrieve what's left inside.

The warehouse's contents include forklifts and some pool-related chemicals, Paul said. He noted that he and Leonard saw no health hazards in the remains, but he plans for a hazardous materials expert to check out the site.

Blair is responsible for cleaning up the debris, Paul said.

An adjacent warehouse also is being condemned because of structural problems, and Paul said he told Blair the contents of that building have to be emptied within a week.

County Councilman Alex Oliphant, whose district includes Lynwood Avenue, said the collapsed building should add a "sense of urgency to clean up The Gateway," a nearby blighted area.

One "Gateway" site is the former Thomas & Howard building. Once a grocery distribution center, the building now is boarded with plywood. Vines grow freely along its sides. Portions of the roof are falling in.

"The very same thing could happen to it," said Oliphant, who has been leading the charge to clean up "The Gateway."

Ironically, a Main Street building Oliphant owned unexpectedly collapsed in December from what authorities said was the unseen decay of an outside wall. But in the case of the Lynwood Avenue warehouse, Oliphant said, the deterioration was obvious.

"When you know you have a problem, you need to address it," he said. "That was a known problem."

On Thursday morning, Lynwood Avenue residents stared at the yellow "Do Not Cross" tape around the crumbled remnants of the warehouse.

McCoy's 28-year-old daughter, Sharece, said the scene wasn't a surprise.

"It was coming eventually," she said.