A massive fire early this morning in Kensington has claimed the lives of two fire fighters and destroyed the former Thomas W. Buck Hosiery Co. building on the corner of York and Jasper Streets. The five-alarm blaze spread to an adjacent furniture store, part of which collapsed, killing the two firefighters and injuring two others.
The 19th century mill building had been vacant for several years, while its absentee owners racked up more than $60,000 in unpaid property taxes, liens and building code violations, as detailed last week by Ryan Briggs in the Hidden City Daily. The property had deteriorated significantly since Yechiel and Michael Lichtenstein of Brooklyn-based YML Realty Holdings purchased the building in 2009, and suffered chronic break-ins. Lichtenstein told the Daily that he “didn’t know” who was responsible for managing and maintaining the building, but was sure “the building is being kept up.”
The East Kensington Neighborhood Association asked YML Realty Holdings in a letter to maintain the building and clean up the trash accumulating around the property. They never received a response. EKNA president Jeff Carpineta told the Daily that he was worried that if the building wasn’t better sealed it might go up in flames, like several other vacant mill buildings in the neighborhood that have burned down in recent years.
The Lichtenstein’s own a number of properties in Philadelphia, and have made a habit of dunning the City. According to court records, they have accumulated Business Privilege Tax, water and sewage rents, property tax, and building code violations. In virtually every instance they failed to appear in court. Last month the City filed to bring the property to Sheriff’s Sale for unpaid taxes, but the process takes at least six months to complete, and can be cancelled if the owner pays the taxes in the interim.
Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.