Downtown city building partially collapses, tenants inside

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–Piles of cement blocks, bricks and steel beams now sit heaped outside of 219 E. Grace Street, downtown Richmond.

The debris came loose when the entire façade of the centuries-old, Victorian-style building crumbled around 3 a.m. Monday morning.

“I was in bed sleeping and my dog started going crazy,” recalled Matt Gordon, a tenant of the building. “Then we heard a bunch of bricks falling and we tried to come out front,” but that proved impossible, with the fallen debris blocking the entrance.

The Richmond Fire Department responded to the scene around 3 a.m. Three people were inside the home at the time of the partial collapse, but nobody was injured.

A picture taken of the building before the collapse shows damage.

Residents and neighbors told CBS 6 the warning signs had been in place for months, with the façade of the building starting to separate from the rest of the structure.

“The building’s 130 years old, and it’s lasted a long time,” continued Gordon. “But it was very disconcerting for me the fact that this has been going on for a while and we’ve asked for it to get fixed a couple of times, and it’s just been sort of left off.”

Gordon said he alerted the maintenance people in his building, but not the city.

Richmond does not require annual inspections of historic residences.

The main reasons those structures are inspected- additions to the home and a change in occupancy, according to Richmond spokesperson Mike Wallace.

Still, some people living in the neighborhood claim the city knew about the deteriorating state of the building and did nothing.

“This has been going on for a while, and the city was down here about a month ago, taking pictures,” said  Andy Fletcher, a friend of one of the residents.  “It was just getting worse, [the façade] getting farther and farther away from the building.”

A call placed to the city to determine if the Building Commissioner had declared the structure   uninhabitable,  and if the Planning and Development Department knew of the safety hazard, went unreturned.

One of the residents, Andy King, said he isn’t sure where he’ll be staying for the immediate future.

“They told us on and off, ‘we can’t go in,’ then ‘we can go in,’ so who knows,” said King.