Blast to wipe out episode in public housing history

Implosion on July 3 to level Murphy Homes

June 23, 1999|By Amy Oakes and Tom Pelton | Amy Oakes and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The biggest fireworks display in Baltimore July 3 will be the demolition of a chapter in the history of public housing.

City officials plan to ignite 500 pounds of dynamite to blow up the 14-story George B. Murphy Homes public housing complex on the west side.

The demolition of the 758-unit complex is the most recent in a series of implosions designed to sweep away the outdated policy of high-rise projects.

"Baltimore is a boom town," said Mark Loizeaux, president of the city's demolition contractor, Controlled Demolition Inc. of Phoenix in Baltimore County. "We have done more demolition work in this city than in any other."

The city plans to replace the Murphy housing complex with 185 townhouses for sale at below-market rates and 75 rowhouse-style public housing apartments by the summer of 2000.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said the more attractive, neighborhood-style design of the Heritage Crossing complex -- which will feature rowhouses clustered around a park -- will be less likely to isolate the poor.

The theory of public housing in vogue in U.S. cities starting in the 1920s was to warehouse low-income people in "gleaming towers" so that other residents wouldn't have to look at them, Henson said.

Starting in the early 1990s, however, housing officials in Baltimore and elsewhere concluded that a healthier living environment would be townhouses for people with a mix of incomes.

"Murphy Homes was planned in the 1940s as part of the Negro housing plan for Baltimore, when segregation was the law of the land," Henson said. "There was a lot of concern about Negroes and whites not mixing in public housing units."

The city over the past year has relocated the 600 families who have been living in Murphy Homes to low-rise public housing complexes and federally subsidized apartments scattered around the city.

The $58 million Heritage Complex will offer three-bedroom townhouses with air conditioning on tree-lined streets for $80,000 to low- to moderate-income people who qualify for low-interest loans, said Chickie Grayson, president of the Enterprise Homes Inc. development company.

Before the demolition, at 9 a.m., the city plans to close off several streets around the complex, which is on the west side of Martin Luther King Boulevard and on the north side of Franklin Street.

At 9 a.m., a parade of local residents and city officials will travel from Harlem Park Elementary School at Lanvale and Stricker streets to the corner of Mulberry and Schroeder streets.

The public is invited to watch the big bang at four locations: the corner of Mulberry and Schroeder; the corner of Martin Luther King and Saratoga Street; the corner of Saratoga and Pine Street; and the corner of Martin Luther King and Druid Hill Avenue.

The implosion, which will cost the city about $7 million, is planned for 10 a.m. It should take about 30 seconds for the 1,200 explosive charges to set off chain reactions that will flatten the four high-rise buildings.

The city is planning a "Murphy Homes Implosion Party" with live music from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. July 3 at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave.

Murphy Homes is the third of the city's four public housing complexes to be knocked down. Lafayette Courts was razed in 1995 and replaced by Pleasant View Gardens in 1997. Almost a year later, Lexington Terrace was torn down and replaced by the Terraces, expected to open in the fall.

Flag House Courts near Little Italy is scheduled for implosion in July 2000.

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