WARREN - The steady stream of spectators who made their way to the former Pamela Manor apartments last week to watch work crews raze the dilapidated structures didn't compare to the large crowd that gathered when the buildings were set on fire earlier this year.
Still, many of the onlookers last week were just as enthusiastic to see the buildings come down.
"Santa came early this year," exclaimed Robert Weitzel, chairman of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. The association had been fighting to get the buildings torn down for several years.
"This has been a long time coming," he said. "It's a great day for the northwest side of the city, all of Warren actually."
The two-building complex at 1157 and 1167 Tod Ave. N.W. had been vacant since September 2001. It was condemned a few years ago and ordered to be demolished. Weitzel said he knew the wrecking day was coming, but he didn't know when.
"I drove by there last Friday and I saw the equipment and everything," he said. "What a relief. I couldn't get over it. We had fought so long with to get it down."
Crews initiated the process of tearing down what remained of the buildings on Dec. 14. The work was completed by this past Friday.
City officials had engaged in an extensive battle with property owner Riverside Club Apartments LLC, which lists a statutory agent as Donald L. Guarnieri, over the complex. Attempts by a Tribune Chronicle reporter to reach Guarnieri last week were not successful.
Guarnieri was to come up with action plan to remediate the site within a reasonable time. However, after the June fire the city took him back to court and this time he was given a firm deadline to have the buildings demolished by the end of the year, or face paying a fine of $1,000 a day each day that the buildings remained standing.
Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys said no city money was used for the demolition. Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa confirmed that it was Guarnieri's responsibility to pay for the demolition.
"The thing is that the (complex) was an eyesore before the fire, but even more so after it," Cantalamessa said. ''It was a safety hazard. It's good to have it down."
Warren fire Chief Ken Nussle declared the buildings a public nuisance in a letter sent to Warren Chief Building Official Christopher A. Tanneyhill on Nov. 12, 2002. He said the declaration was made because the buildings constituted a fire hazard, were dangerous to human life, were a menace to the public health, safety and welfare, and were open to the public.
A second letter, sent Oct. 23, 2007, stated the buildings met the definition of dangerous buildings because windows were broken, boards had fallen off in several areas and gutters were missing.
A third letter sent to numerous city officials on Sept. 23, 2009, stated "in my opinion, these two structures cannot be effectively rehabilitated to minimum housing standards and constitutes a public nuisance and should be scheduled for demolition."
On Thursday, Nussle said it was a "great day for Warren."
"Buildings like this, not only do they pose an unnecessary danger to our firefighters, they also tie up resources and manpower that could be used somewhere else," Nussle said. "When we're responding to a fire like that one, we run the risk of using and tying up resources that might be needed somewhere else. It's a good day in Warren when we eliminate some of that and don't have to worry buildings like that."
Firefighters were called to the complex about 7:30 p.m. June 17 to fight the fire that heavily damaged the apartments. Dozens of people rallied - some of the clapping and cheering - to watch the buildings burn as fire crews battled the blaze through one evening until late in the morning the next day.
Before the fire, most of the windows had been broken with others boarded over. The foundation was crumbling in some areas and discarded cigarettes, trash and other items were strewn across the lawn.
The buildings had been on the city's dangerous buildings list for several years. Prior to the June blaze, Nussle's department determined that no firefighter would enter the buildings to fight an ongoing fire because of their conditions.
Ironically, as firefighters battled the fire at Pamela Manor, the film "Abandoned" began its premier showing at the downtown YWCA. The movie is a documentary about abandoned and dilapidated housing in Warren.