People throughout West Philly were devastated to watch Elena’s Soul Lounge, a local institution, burn down on Christmas Eve. What happened two days later, however, was confounding: A demolition crew sent parts of Elena’s three-story walls crashing through the roofs of the two low-slung businesses on either side of it: Gary’s Nails and Cedar Park Café. Then, on Dec. 28, the Department of Licenses & Inspections gave the owners 30 days to repair or demolish the buildings — even though L&I hired the firm that demolished Elena’s and damaged their roofs.
L&I spokesperson Maura Kennedy refused to say which demolition company had been hired or whether it acted recklessly. Elena’s owner says JPC Group Inc. performed the demolition, and the excavator in use bore a JPC logo. But JPC said the job was handled by an outfit called Gama Wrecking. Two workers at the site on Tuesday identified themselves as Gama employees, but said JPC orchestrated the demolition. “I don’t think they knew what they was doing,” one Gama worker told me.
An excavator gutted the building but left the side walls standing, then repeatedly knocked against the walls, sending debris tumbling. The problem, Kennedy says, was the fire left “load-bearing walls that were standing, but … in pretty serious risk of collapse.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this story said that Cedar Park Café was open on Dec. 25 and 26, based on three witness accounts. However, CP has since learned that the cafe did not reopen after the fire, though its "open" sign was left on. Attempts to reach the owners of the cafe have so far been unsuccessful.