This is all it takes for a high-rise to fall

Implosion: Demolition experts have planted 350 pounds of dynamite at Murphy Homes

detonation is Saturday.

July 02, 1999|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

When it comes down to it, few in this city have ever stepped foot in one of the high-rise towers of the George B. Murphy Homes, the public housing units that straddle Martin Luther King Boulevard. But that has never stopped people from claiming to know much of what has happened within their thick concrete walls.

Murphy Homes was supposed to be a place where drugging, robberies, murder and beatings were commonplace. A place where the city's poor were sandwiched one atop the other for generations. A place that had turned into a foul social mistake.

Whether it was as bad as its reputation doesn't much matter anymore. In 24 hours, the 800 units that make up this complex will become a pile of rubble. The city is demolishing Murphy Homes tomorrow in a series of huge explosions, hoping its reputation will come tumbling down with it.

On its eve of destruction, Murphy Homes has become a breezy, windowless pile of junk. Residents were relocated long ago. Furniture, wallpaper, even doors and windows have been tossed out. Light streams in past the exposed pipes and floods the concrete floors.

Yesterday, as preparations began for the implosion of buildings that housed the city's poor for four decades, there was no sign left that anyone, or anything, had ever lived here. If anyone was mourning Murphy Homes' looming death, they were nowhere to be found.

The only sign of life in the gutted, 15-story behemoths was a couple of men loaded down with a few hundred pounds of dynamite. They like to call themselves "traveling executioners," but they're better known as Controlled Demolition Inc., a Baltimore County-based demolition team. Their mission is to take down these buildings and make sure that no one gets hurt in the process.

Doug Loizeaux heads the prep crew. He and his demolition experts have toppled more than 5,000 buildings and bridges around the world.

As far as buildings go, Murphy Homes is about as exciting to topple as a couple of Lego bricks, say the demolition guys.

But work is work. And they have a schedule to keep. In the southwesternmost high-rise, Loizeaux starts marking up all the columns that hold up the structure according to how much dynamite is needed.

By day's end, the building will be "loaded," as the men say when a building is chock full of dynamite. They figure it will take about 350 pounds of explosive to bring all the buildings to the ground.

After they're done, a fence will encircle the area and a 24-hour guard will be on site to head off anyone dumb enough to think about visiting the buildings before tomorrow's blast. And Loizeaux doesn't expect much out of the ordinary to happen during the implosion, either.

"I've been doing this a lot of years," he says. "You can look at a building and tell if it is all that different."

He pauses, sensing that he may have sounded too cavalier. "But no two buildings are the same and you have to be careful," he adds. "It is not a pure science."

For Loizeaux, in fact, it's more of a passion. So while the challenge of the Murphy Homes may not be that great, there are a few other Baltimore buildings he says he'd love a chance to implode.

For instance, he says, "I'd love to take down the USF&G building -- because it is in the middle of downtown."

For now, though, Loizeaux's attention is on Murphy Homes. He and his crew look up and down the sparse hallways and wonder what it was like living here.

"I feel sorry for people who had to live in a place like this," says demolition expert Jamie Partridge.

He grew up in Monkton, and remembers his family driving by here when they'd visit the city.

"We passed it going to the Inner Harbor, but I didn't give two cents thought to it," Partridge said. "It was just another building."

After tomorrow, it won't even be that.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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