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Crumbling Granite Closes Downtown Streets

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

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Streets are still closed in Pittsburgh after a large chunk of granite broke free from a historic building’s cornice and plummeted into the crosswalk below last week, and officials say they can’t put an estimate on when the busy intersection will reopen completely.

What Happened

Around 3 a.m. last Sunday (July 30) a passerby called 911 to report debris on the crosswalk of Grant Street and Forbes Avenue. The chunk of stone—estimated at 9 cubic feet and 1,400 pounds—had fallen 250 feet from the historic Frick Building.

Built in 1902, the 20-story building was once the tallest building in the city. Designed by Daniel Burnham, the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

No injuries were reported from the cornice’s fall, and the city is working to make sure the site is secure while the building is evaluated.

“With the long-term closure of Grant Street and Forbes Avenue that is necessary to complete the work, city crews will soon erect stronger barriers to keep pedestrians and vehicles away from the area,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration said in a statement.

While the road has been sufficiently closed off to motorists, pedestrians had been defying yellow tape and other temporary barriers. Late last week the city threatened to begin issuing citations to anyone who walked near the site.

What Now

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said that the closures could last several weeks.

“It will take them two weeks to build the scaffold and encapsulate the corner of the building,” Hissrich said. “This will facilitate them to expeditiously and safely work on the building.”

The Frick Building’s owner, New Jersey-based Rugby Realty, hired Pittsburgh-area contractor Graciano Masonry & Concrete Services to erect the safety wall and scaffolding.

An engineer also began inspecting the structure last Tuesday. That report will dictate the next moves for the building.

“They are going to produce a report that will detail what caused [the problem], what needs to be done to stabilize it and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again,”said Rugby’s Pittsburgh CEO Larry Walsh.

The building reportedly had no code violations and was keeping up with inspections, which are required every five years. Though a cause for the crumble isn’t known for sure, an early diagnosis is water infiltration.

"These buildings are all 100 years old. The design is ... faulty, just generally, because of what construction was at that time," Graciano president Glenn Foglio told Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA-FM. "The steel is packed with the cement and the mortar, doesn't have room to breathe, water gets in, the freeze thaw starts and rust moves the stone, cracks the stone."


Tagged categories: Accidents; Building Envelope; Building facades; Historic Structures; North America

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