The north side of the 2300-2400 blocks of Eager Street may feature 35 houses with unique addresses, but it is basically a block long building. The very essence of rowhouses is that they are attached to neighboring houses- this can make for tightly knit neighbors bound by a shared sense of space and responsibility (“mi casa es su casa”- literally), or it can make for frustrating sleepless nights while you listen to your neighbor watch reruns of Golden Girls through a paper-thin party wall (no hard feelings, Don, it’s fine, really).
From an engineer’s perspective, the essential interconnectedness of rowhouses means that the structural integrity of one home can affect the integrity of its neighbors. This created some tough decisions for us as we faced the next steps in our deconstruction of Eager Street.
During our initial inspections, we had discovered that out of the first seven houses we’d be deconstructing, three had collapsed completely. The roofs had failed in all three, allowing rain to penetrate the structure- water seeped through floorboards, which then saturated joists, which ultimately turned to mush and collapsed, leaving a pile of the material formerly known as wood in the basement.
We’d toyed around with different techniques for manual removal of the bricks, but none of them were practical considering that certain houses were no more than teetering piles of masonry. With nearly half of our first batch of houses collapsed, and considering that the condition of one house affects its neighbors, we decided that removing the walls mechanically was the only safe option. Before we brought in the machines, we did manage to pop some bricks off the back walls manually.
Once we’d harvested all the bricks we could, we brought in the excavator. Our operator, Reds, works like a surgeon, only his scalpel weighs over 17 tons. The first step was to claw back a block buttress wall that had been laid when several neighboring houses were torn down years ago.
Below you can see just how precise Reds is: once he clawed away the block, the old party wall was revealed with faux wood paneling still intact.
Once Reds had cleared the block wall, he went around back and began to claw away at the rear wall. Towards the right of the frame below, you can just make out the stream from a fire hose that’s used to control dust. We were lucky to have a rainy day while Reds did his thing, but a hose for dust control is always a must.
If you’re anything like us, you could look at photos of excavators smashing buildings all day, but let’s fast forward a bit (don’t worry- there are 34 more buildings that will be coming down!). Once Reds had finished for the day, here’s the scene we were left with:
To the right of the photo is a pile of joists that Reds was able to grab (we’d left them in place to give the first house some structural integrity). To the left of the photo is an assorted pile of scrap metal and smaller pieces of lumber. And that big red pile in the center is what we’ll be working on for the next week: a beautiful mountain of bricks to process! Stay tuned to see how they clean up.