Anna Smith quickly noticed the rodents and garbage that gathered across the street from her new York City home.
The row homes at 717-719 W. Clarke Ave. had become a dumping ground after a fire rendered the building a dangerous and uninhabitable eyesore. New to the neighborhood, Smith worried about her kids playing nearby.
"It just attracts, like, negativity," she said.
So, on Thursday, Smith said she was happy to see a mechanical arm knocking the blighted building to the ground.
"It makes the neighborhood safer for the kids to play," she said.
A May 2008 fire destroyed the two homes and damaged three others. A state police fire marshal ruled arson as the cause.
City officials have been working for years to remedy the situation on West Clarke Avenue, said Kevin Schreiber, the city's economic and community development director.
But negotiations with property owners proved difficult, he said, and the city ultimately took ownership of one of the homes through eminent domain. Following demolition, the owner of the other home has agreed to deed the property to the city.
"We had to step in and do this," Schreiber said. "Every day that these buildings sat in this condition, it's a threat."
The city's Redevelopment Authority gets about $25,000 in grant money each year to spend on demolition. That amounts to about one or two projects a year, Schreiber said.
The city has asked the contractor to finish the project on Clarke Avenue by planting grass, though Smith said she'd like to see a community garden or playground eventually replace the vacant homes.
Work began early Thursday with the first wall falling around 8:10 a.m. By 9 a.m., the whole building had been reduced to a pile of rubble, said Jared Hollinghead, who works for York-based Washington & Dowling General Contractors.
"There was nothing really holding this house together," Hollinghead said. "Even the firefighters weren't allowed to go inside."
- Reach Erin James at 505-5439 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ydcity.