Demolitions deserve a special chapter all their own. This is because they are so final a chapter on a building's life. An end to a history of people and events that have meaning to many. In order to be able to deal with the need to make sound judgements relative to demolitions, we hired two independent engineering firms to assist us in evaluating buildings that were being considered for demolition. When our own engineers had made a determination that demolition was necessary, we had the two firms make separate investigations. If our findings were corroborated then the order was issued. we allowed each property owner to make their appraisals with the aid of their own engineer. If there was a difference of opinion, then the one sponsored by their engineer stood and they were required to immediately make their building safe by shoring or other approved method. If they failed to act in a responsive manner, then we proceeded with the demolition. We never had to do this, however.
is not to say that we did not demolish a number of buildings
I was especially concerned that we might get into a demolition frame of mind, so I made a very conscious effort to do all that I could to keep buildings up. If at all possible, I urged owners to do the necessary shoring work until a thorough evaluation could be made. In all, I believe that I ordered the demolition of ten buildings. In each case, I was very sure that the decision made was the proper one, both for the City and for the owner.
The buildings that caused the problems were those that had historical significance. The people that are concerned about these buildings were very watchful of their charges. In one case, there were five separate engineering evaluations made. They were complicated by terminology, but finally arrived at a common conclusion - the demolition order was the right call. Sometimes, these decisions were a long time coming so we had to be sure that the areas were secured.
There were others that tried to take advantage of the situation and would do whatever they could to get an emergency demolition permit. One owner told me that if he could get a permit to raze three buildings, he could do so immediately. In an earlier conversation when I told him he could only demolish one building, he said it would take several days to get started. Only one building was demolished, and that is still the condition of the site today, five months later.
Some owners used the threat of demolition to scare their tenants. We had to be very watchful against this, and be very careful to stop any rumors in this regard.
Demolitions were only ordered when there was extreme danger to life and property. We followed this criteria to the letter and I believe that all of our decisions were good ones.
Dean Macris, Director of the Department of City Planning, was a valuable resource in dealing with historic buildings. I kept in close touch with him on these issues and he worked with the Landmarks Board to help coordinate the data gathering necessary in the decision-making process.
Finally, one needs to be aware that a demolition is not like a fire. A fire consumes all. A collapse or demolition leaves a lot untouched. To help residents recover as much as possible, we assigned Conservation Corps members to work at the demolition sites. They were told to recover whatever they could from the edge of the site, bag it, and tag it with an address. Further the spoils of each demolition were taken to a sterile landfill site where the landfill operators did an additional search by the same method. The results of these two searches were taken to Pier 2 at Fort Mason and people from the appropriate addresses were invited in to reclaim whatever the could. This was a well intended and very expensive Method of deyaling with a problem. Unfortunately, not much was recovered, but most of what was, was reclaimed.
Demolitions are difficult to order. One must be aware of the severity of the decision, take the proper investigative steps to insure that a sound decision is made, deal with the owners and tenants in a forthright and concerned way, and then proceed to do the'work in a professional manner. Do not vacillate once the decision is made.
of the issues we had to be on the lookout for was the unscrupulous contractor,
and there were some of them. By keeping a close watch on the permits and
the work in the field, we were able to catch most of them. I am sure that
there are Others out there, but we will do our best to try to stay on top
of the situation through the permit and inspection process.