In about 15 seconds just after sunrise on Saturday, the Norman Blumberg Apartment towers were no more. The implosion marked the formal pressing of the reset button on the eight-acre Philadelphia Housing Authority site, the latest in its removal of tower-in-the-park housing projects in favor of more traditional rowhouse developments. PHA itself described Blumberg as a “widely viewed … failure of planning and an obstacle to neighborhood renewal.”
In all, seventeen buildings will be demolished by PHA and Philadelphia’s preeminent demolition firm, Geppert Bros, Inc. Designed by Philadelphia architecture and engineering firm Bellante & Clauss, Blumberg was the last of the PHA high-rise projects to open, in 1966, with two 18-story towers, a 13-story senior high-rise, and 15 low-rise buildings. Only the senior tower will survive; traditional equipment demolition of the 15 low-rise buildings is ongoing.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post said that all 17 buildings were imploded. Only the two towers were imploded; the rest are currently being demolished.
In their place, PHA will build single-family homes both to own and to rent, as part of the controversial Sharswood/Blumberg Neighborhood Transformation Plan. Large swaths of the neighborhood have already been cleared, and with no published survey of historic buildings (as required by the “Section 106 review“), still more could be demolished.
But few people shed any tears when the Blumberg towers came down on Saturday. Hundreds of neighbors gathered to watch and cheer the implosion, symbols of poverty and crime gone with a boom. That leaves PHA with only two high-rise projects in its inventory, Fairhill Apartments at 11th and Cumberland in North Philadelphia and Westpark Apartments near 44th and Market in West Philadelphia. A PHA spokeswoman said there are no current plans to demolish either complex. (See Ryan Briggs’ 2014 profile of PHA high-rises HERE.)
Large-scale controlled demolitions often present an opportunity for pyrotechnic choreography. At PHA’s Mill Creek and Schuylkill Falls implosions, for example, dynamite brought the towers down successively for dramatic effect. At the Drexel Shaft, it was as though someone yelled “timber!” and chopped down the classical concrete tree with a single blast. And the donut-shaped Veterans Stadium came down clockwise to much applause from Phillies and Eagles fans alike.
At Blumberg, the dramatic effect came from the twin towers coming down simultaneously, their 50 years of memories drifting southward in a giant golden cloud in the early morning sunlight. These photos come from the final week of those 50 years. Click any photo to launch the gallery.