CAN ONE MAN who owns a blighted, vacant Germantown mansion on an otherwise beautiful block stymie every attempt by his long-suffering neighbors, the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections, the city Law Department and the much-ballyhooed Blight Court to make him fix it up?
Yes, he can. Tony Byrne has beaten the system upside the head.
All the mayor's horses and all the mayor's men cannot put Byrne's mansion together again.
After more than a dozen violation hearings in Blight Court - which is allegedly the muscle behind L&I's attempt to force Philadelphia's most negligent owners to fix their eyesore properties - Byrne's 11-bedroom mansion at Knox and Coulter streets still looks as if TV's Addams Family lives there.
On Sunday, a big pile of stones and rubble marked what was once an elegant entryway. The front door was boarded up, as were the huge windows on either side of it.
Three bay windows were stuccoed over. The copper that once framed them was ripped off long ago, leaving ragged edges.
The massive roof's woodwork was visibly rotting. All the paint was peeling.
Although Municipal Judge Bradley K. Moss did get Byrne to rebuild a stone porch wall that had crumbled and to fix several broken windows, the 6,251-square-foot house remains a grotesque eyesore on a block of graceful homes.
Julie Baranauskas, whose pristine house shares a common wall with the deteriorating mansion, has been to Byrne's Blight Court hearings, month after month, year after year, hoping for relief and finding none.
She and some neighbors stood in front of Byrne's rubble-strewn yard on Sunday afternoon, appalled that after all the court orders to make repairs - and all the threats of thousands of dollars in fines for not making them - the judge closed the case last week.
The massive mess remains, and Byrne is free to continue his history of neglect.
Baranauskas said the case felt like watching the dance of the seven veils - only with a lot more veils.
"Every time you thought Byrne was taking off his last veil, it turned out he had 20 more of them," she said sadly.
"I can't believe he got away with this. But as you can see, he did."