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In Ruins

City begins dismantling falling-down building at 1313 Valley St.

The City Paper Digi-Camô
IF WALLS COULD TALK: The city is taking down a collapsing building at 1313 Valley St., after it caused damage to a neighboring residence.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/12/2007

Carolyn Jones got what she wanted during the last week of August: a city-paid work crew began dismantling the house next door to hers at 1311 Valley St., just south of Green Mount Cemetery in East Baltimore, and they started taking down the house next to it as well. But she's not yet satisfied. "There's bricks all over the place," she says on Sept. 4. "You've got to see it."

For more than a year Jones has complained about the collapsing structure at 1313, owned by an out-of-state investor named Frank Schwalenberg. She saw that it was condemned, and she hired an engineer to determine that the rowhouse attached to her north wall was damaging her home. Jones says she received little acknowledgement from city officials and even saw her own home, which is in good shape, mistakenly condemned.

But after City Paper wrote about her situation ("Nightmare Neighbor," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 15), she received a letter from Jerome J. Dorich, director of construction and demolition for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. Dated Aug. 21, the letter promised demolition of the house next door and that her north party wall would be "treated in accordance with the building code." For good measure, Sam Snowden, a staff assistant to Mayor Sheila Dixon, arrived on Aug. 30 to assure Jones that the work would progress. "He said if I call housing and let them know that he was at my house, they'll get to it, 'cause they'll know that he's watching," Jones says.

But now Jones is concerned that the demolition is taking too long and may damage her home. She points to a ragged edge near her front roof. "I still don't know his name," she says of the contractor taking 1313 down. "Last Thursday he said it'd be all over Tuesday. I come home from work today [Tuesday], and look."

Bricks litter the front walk where two homes stood last week. In back the chain-link fence separating the properties is twisted and the concrete walkway is cracked amid brick debris. Jones says she still hears what's left of the house shifting at night as rubble crumbles. "And the rats! The rats will kill you."

Jones admits that if things are cleaned up in, say, two weeks, and if her north wall is left waterproof and structurally stable, she'll be satisfied. But for now she's still worried and angry about how long it took the city to listen to her concerns. And she says the city better not damage her wall.

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