Fire engines, police cruisers and a structural collapse team swiftly descended on a downtown Washington corner yesterday morning amid fears that an empty old building was about to fall.
Streets were closed and nearby buildings, including Ford's Theatre, were evacuated while authorities checked a cracking wall on a four-story building at 10th and F streets NW. They later determined that the wall posed no danger and reopened most of the area.
The building, which formerly housed a printing company, is next to a construction site with a pit that is five stories deep. A construction worker noticed a brick wall begin to buckle about 10:30 a.m., said D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter.
James Baker, a driver for Superior Concrete Materials Inc., was in the pit delivering a load of concrete when he was ordered out of his truck and up to the street. "The wall started to shift and it started spitting out bricks," he said. "We saw it and heard it. That's why everybody took off."
No one was hurt, but many on the block were startled.
"When we saw all the fire engines and police, we were scared it was something really bad, like terrorists," said Sue Ngo, manager at the Waffle Shop on F Street, across from the buckling, cracked wall. "Our customers couldn't come in. Some left. We sent lots of people home."
The fragile wall is the building's southern facade. The structure is in a historic district, and its dramatic dormer windows will be incorporated into a larger office building now under construction, according to the design plan advertising the new space.
Within two hours, emergency crews reopened the nearby buildings, allowing tour groups back inside Ford's Theatre and bringing crowds back to the Waffle Shop for the corned beef hash special.
Inspectors from the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs were at the scene to decide on the building's future. Because it is a historic property, the building's facade will have to be saved and braced while the rest of the buckling wall will be demolished, said Gwen Davis, spokeswoman for the agency.
Police said they will reopen just one lane of traffic in each direction on F Street between 10th and 11th streets until the fragile wall is reinforced. Officials are unsure how long that will take.
Staff writer John F. Kelly contributed to this report.