Blow Me Down

Recent high winds revealed structural instabilities in a historic local landmark, soon to be rubble. 

UPDATE 3/31/19 (Photo credit: Roxborough Runner)

March 8th, 2019

Dear Residents,

Construction will be taking place in the back section of the Lofts Building 45 to remove the large stack beginning Friday, March 15, 2019. The work will take up to 3 weeks. We will keep you informed if the timeframe is extended.

The work will be completed manually by a qualified specialist and there will be no explosives used in the removal of the stack. A perimeter fence will be built around the work are as well as protection of the roof and facade of the adjacent building.

We ask for your safety that you nor any of your guests enter this restricted area. With any undertaking this large, we suggest that residents with patio areas facing the stack remove any valuables and to stay out of those areas during this period.

The parking lots behind Building 18 and by the dog park will be closed as well and therefore those areas will not be open for any resident or visitor parking. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.   — Dobson Mills Management

Yikes! When a concerned Dobsons Mills resident forwarded us this email, local and City historians reached out as far as Texas to try and save this distinctive tower that’s anchored our neighborhood skyline for more than a century.

East Falls in the early 1900’s (from the collection of Joseph Minardi)

Dobson Mills’ woolen blankets famously supplied Union soldiers during the Civil War, so it was no surprise to hear that the smoke stack has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the 80’s. It was sadly also no surprise to hear that this honorary distinction provides absolutely zilch in the way of preservation protections.

But Philadelphia’s Preservation Alliance was on it!  Executive director Paul Steinke quickly offered to help negotiate a preservation easement, which provides significant tax benefits that can help property owners offset the cost of stabilizing historic structures. “We had a similar situation up the road at the Wissahickon Industrial Center (formerly the Atwater Kent radio factory),” Paul explained, “We have an easement on that property and worked with the property owner to stabilize its smokestack.”

Unfortunately, time was not on history’s side. Calls to the property manager at Winther Investment, Inc in Houston, TX revealed that insurance adjusters had noted the smokestack swaying in strong winds and declared it an immediate danger. By the time the email to residents went out, the demolition contractor had already been mobilized. Indeed, photos of the smokestack from earlier in the week show the area has been cleared, secured and prepped with scaffolding.

“If Councilman Jones were willing to intervene there might be at least some hope for a stay of execution,” Paul suggested, “But short of that it doesn’t look good.”

So I guess it’s goodbye OBSON smokestack, starting this Friday. Our favorite East Falls historian/preservationist summed it up best for us:

Carolyn Sutton  It is a shame, but concerns over public safety have to to be considered, especially as people have reported seeing the stack “swaying” in the winds… and goodness knows we do have powerful winds sweeping through our area, increasingly, it seems, of late. The stack has probably been neglected, no maintenance or attention whatsoever for what… probably since the mills ceased operations. 70 years or so? There are financial incentives to encourage preservation of such structures, but this I am sure would have been an incredibly daunting undertaking. The old order passes… sigh. 

And, to our thinking, if the smokestack had said EAST FALLS or FALLS OF SCHUYLKILL or ALLEGHENY or if it had a catfish or a cool vintage logo or something really identifiable on it — that would feel like a bigger loss. This “OBSON” smokestack had already crumbled it’s “D” away, and not to say it’s a ticking time bomb but… you know. Have you really looked at it? This thing is huge and really old and it’s all these little bricks on top of each other.

With the smokestack so dangerously unstable — and so close to a large community of residents — Dobson Mills is taking swift, decisive action to ensure the safety of their grounds and the nearby neighborhood.

And so goes another little bit of our past again. East Falls is full of vulnerable historical properties. To get involved with grassroots preservation efforts organizing now, email or come out to the next East Falls Forward meeting — every 3rd Thursday at BuLogics (3721 Midvale Ave). Free community happy hour starts at 6:30, followed by an informal meeting on neighborhood matters like new business/development, recycling and preservation.

1 Comment

  1. Awww, man. That explains the crane and the missing letter “O” I saw this morning! I always liked seeing that remnant of history beyond the foreground of my backyard. Now the only tall structure I can see is one of the railroad pylons.

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