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A South Baltimore home on Fort Avenue was condemned and demolished on the same day after a sinkhole formed.

A Baltimore City crew filled a sinkhole on Patapsco Street in South Baltimore with debris and asphalt Sunday morning and began clearing the wreckage from a corner rowhouse that was demolished Saturday following a partial collapse.

The cause of the sinkhole and partial collapse of the house at Patapsco and Fort Avenue is unknown, officials said. Water from the building’s internal plumbing had leaked into the property and two adjacent rowhouses, but it was unclear whether the leak began before or after the outer walls of the house began to buckle, said David McMillan, director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management.

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"When it comes to whether the sinkhole caused the collapse or the collapse caused the sinkhole, we don’t have a final determination,” McMillan said Sunday. “We know it wasn’t a water main break.”

The house was condemned and demolished on the same day, but the partial collapse did not structurally compromise the houses next door, which were evacuated, McMillan said. One neighbor was taken to a hospital for exposure to the cold, and water service was restored around 2 a.m. Sunday after being shut off to 26 houses in the area.

Mike Soper, the owner, said he had been renovating the demolished house, a former storefront, and pursuing historic tax credits for the property for more than a year. It had been listed for sale.

His company, Soper Investment Group, purchased the century-old, three-story house for $150,000 in July 2018, according to state tax records. The 2,500-square-foot house had five bedrooms, four full bathrooms, two half-bathrooms and a deck, according to Soper’s website.

After receiving texts and calls that the building was collapsing, Soper arrived to see a 15- to 20-foot-long sinkhole opening up on the sidewalk next to the house, he said Sunday.

“You never expect to get a call like that,” he said.

Soper said he was glad no one was hurt, and he commended the city crews and contractors for quickly evacuating the area, cordoning off the collapsing building and safely taking it down.

The house was insured, Soper said. Still, it was difficult watching as “my investment is tumbling to the ground,” he said.

The 25-year-old builder comes from a long line of contractors and renovates about 10 houses a year in the greater Baltimore area himself, he said. He said he has never faced a challenge like this.

“I don’t even know where to start," Soper said. "I’m in the same situation as everybody else — trying to figure out where to go from here. I would love to have an opportunity to build another house there. I just don’t know.”

Joe Sachetti, owner of SURE Sales Group, the brokerage firm for the listing, called the demolition “a tough blow.”

He said he went over to the site Sunday to see the demolished house for himself.

“I’m relieved nobody was injured," he said.

Several neighbors stopped to look Sunday morning as they passed the excavators parked on piles of wood, brick and other detritus. Patapsco Street remained closed to traffic through the morning.

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George McAllister, 59, who lives on Hanover Street nearby, surveyed the damage as he smoked a cigarette Sunday.

McAllister had watched crews tear down the house Saturday night. He said he was most concerned about the next-door neighbor’s house, which had a Christmas wreath on the front door and bricks hanging from the side where it had been attached to the demolished house.

Baltimore firefighters responded Saturday morning to a rowhouse at the intersection of Fort Avenue and Patapsco Street that was at risk of collapsing.
Baltimore firefighters responded Saturday morning to a rowhouse at the intersection of Fort Avenue and Patapsco Street that was at risk of collapsing. (Sameer Rao)

“I’m glad none of the bricks fell and busted up their property,” he said.

Another neighbor, Leroy Hughes, stepped up to the construction fence to watch the workers shoveling away wood and plaster. He had seen people in the house renovating it recently, he said.

Hughes, 66, wondered whether the age of the house contributed to its failure. It was built in 1900, according to state tax records.

“These old houses, the life’s went out of the mortar," he said. "It’s just sand. I’m surprised it ain’t been more.”

Edward Traver, 30, of Federal Hill, stopped to snap a photo to show his wife as he walked Lola, their pit bull mix, past the site Sunday.

“It’s pretty wild,” he said. “It looks like the city handled it pretty quickly and efficiently.”

Ben Adams and Haylee Gudzak, who live in Federal Hill, took a detour on their way to brunch at Banditos to see the wreckage.

“I’m just surprised how quickly they knocked it down,” Gudzak said.

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