Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remembering 172 Stanton St.

Jan. 24 marked the 11th anniversary of an ugly day in LES history. On that cold, drizzly day in 1998, the lower portion of the rear wall of the building at 172 Stanton St. gave way at 8:58 a.m., as the Times reported. According to the Buildings Department, rainwater apparently got into the wall, which was weakened by years of deterioration, and loosened the bricks and mortar.

Some 25 residents were evacuated as a safety measure. City officials told them they could return to collect their things. As the Times tells it:

But in their dash for safety, many residents of the partially collapsed building left with only their clothes, leaving behind pets, family heirlooms and other valuables. The collapse occurred while many residents were still asleep.


The building was later demolished, angering the tenants who said they had been given no chance to rescue pets or belongings.


Mrs. Grieve and I lived across the street from the building at the time. We watched the horror show unfold. We watched as city officials quickly decided to raze the building, leaving the desperate residents begging officials to allow them a moment to retrieve some personal belongings...their pets...wedding bands...cherished family photos...

Residents who tried to get a court injunction allowing them to remove pets and belongings from the building before it was demolished at about 8:30 P.M. accused city officials of speeding up the demolition when they were informed of their intentions.

"I said, 'Give me half an hour,'" said Marcelino Garcia, a resident who said that he had spoken to an official from the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. When people outside the building started chanting, demanding that it be saved, Mr. Garcia said, the official got on a cellular phone, "and boom, that was it."


Indeed. Although the building looked fine, the official line was that it was extremely unstable. We watched from our rooftop across the street when the century-old tenement building came down. The five-stories were split open. Bedrooms were quickly exposed. We could see pictures on the wall. An unmade bed. A bureau of clothing. We had our cameras, but were too sick to actually take any photos.

One resident, Marc Friedlander, 35, a video artist, said he had nearly $20,000 worth of cameras and other video equipment in his apartment, as well as the entire collection of tapes of the downtown art scene he has documented over the last 15 years.

"It's priceless what I am losing in there," he said.

Mr. Garcia, who was able to grab his dog, a bichon frise, on his way out, said his canary flew away during the pandemonium. His wife, Milagros, left her wedding ring.

For most of the afternoon, Roberto Carreara, 66, and another resident, Stanley Kleinkopf, stood near the police yellow tape and pleaded to be allowed to rescue their cats.

"Please, please," Mr. Carreara begged an officer repeatedly about retrieving his cat. "He's all I got."


The cat, Honey, was never seen again. Kleinkopf and his wife Ann had lived in that building since 1958. They lost everything. As did most residents. A lifetime gone. It took 12 hours to bring down the building, an absurdly long time for something deemed so unstable, such a threat to life and limb.

Arguably the worst part of the ordeal as a witness came the following day, when the residents -- some 25 in total -- were brought back from the Westway Motor Inn near LaGuardia where the Red Cross placed them. A waterlogged pile of household items, including Friedlander's guitar, now with a broken neck, were lying on the sidewalk. The residents, mostly still in their clothes from the day before, glumly sorted through the pathetic mound. The rest of the building and its contents were hauled off by a private demolition company hired by the city.

In a follow-up article in the Times on May 10, 1998, "Only 3 of the 25 have found new homes; half remain in shelters and single-room-occupancy hotels. The others depend on the waning sympathies of friends or relatives."

There are theories that "the landlord and the city jumped at an excuse to remove the rent-stabilised tenants from the building," according to a post on RalphBorland.net and a subsequent article published at tenant.net.

The lot stayed empty as long as I can recall.


[Via RalphBorland.net]

We moved several blocks away in subsequent years...I think of Jan. 24 every time I pass by the corner of Clinton and Stanton. Today, the million-dollar condo on that corner is nearly ready for occupancy.



14 comments:

Jeremiah Moss said...

this story is making me cry

EV Grieve said...

It was all so horrible...Maybe the site of Mr. Kleinkopf looking for Honey, his cat, was the biggest heartbreaker. And the cold-hearted city officials -- they just didn't care.

Anonymous said...

incredible. I've never heard about this before. what an outrage! how could something like that happen? what kind of government would allow it? what kind of police would follow orders so blindly in the face or it?

this is a sick, sick city, and it's only gotten worse since 1998. I am furious over this. did any of these people sue, at the very least?

John M

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for the comment, John. The second Times article I referenced mentions the lawsuit (at the end of the piece):
....
The tenants have filed a $34 million lawsuit against the Weisbergs and the city. The suit accuses the Weisbergs of failing to maintain the building, and the city of violating their constitutional right to due process by destroying their homes without a hearing. A lawyer for the tenants, Alan L. Fuchsberg, says that the city ignored its own procedures when it ordered the building quickly razed because a request to take down even the most perilous structures must be reviewed by a judge.

But a lawyer for the city, Gabriel Taussig, disagreed, saying that exceptions were allowed in emergencies: ''Clearly, when a wall is about to fall on somebody's head, the city can exercise its police powers and take immediate action.''

.....

I don't know whatever became of this...

Bowery Boogie said...

sounds like the same events could unfold today...

how tragic.

esquared said...

"And where the offense is, let the great axe fall."

kmc said...

Here's a photo of the building before it was knocked down. Fuck you, Giuliani.
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/DCGo_zp6Yiikbyfy1zfD8A?feat=directlink

kmc said...

Rockets Red Glare and Marc Zero lived there. Marc lost his entire film archive. It is believed Giuliani and the NYPD targeted Marc because of the footage he had compiled of the NYPD. There were other elderly residents that either committed suicide or went crazy after losing their apartments. This is one of the saddest moments is the city's history.

bryan said...

What a horrible story. And I thought the 213 Pearl fiasco was as bad as it could get! We were in a similar position to you w/ that one: overlooking it from our old apartment across the street. I still can't stand to go down that block of Pearl St. What a waste -- and all for what? Another crappy Rockrose tower?

BaHa said...

There was a fantastic bodega on the ground floor of that building; great people and the weirdest (in a good way) variety of candy I've ever seen. I was in and out of there all the time, living footsteps away.

chris flash said...

We covered this story in depth in the SHADOW, and got an eyewitness account from Marc Zero, who snuck past the barricades and got back inside to retrieve a few items before he was arrested!

Few may remember, but the alleged "collapse" was simply a few bricks falling from the rear facade, endangering no one. As this building was 6 or so bricks thick, this could have easily been remedied, and even if it wasn't, the rest of the building was solid and secure. (The "paper of record" NY Times got it wrong, yet again!)

The strangest and most suspicious thing about this demolition was the appearance of Il Duce Giuliani himself at the scene. He personally gave the order to take the building down.

To this day, it is a mystery as to WHY the city did this, esp. as the resulting lot stayed vacant for more than 10 years. Was it a test case for something? We'll probably never know, unless someone at HPD or DOB talks.

They pulled this shit against the LES squatters in the 1980s -- this time, they took it up a notch and hit rent paying "legal" tenants. Who's next?

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris...Oh, yes, good ol' Rudy paid a visit...and he didn't even wear any kind of safety helmet for his inspection! ... interesting, given how "perilous" the city claimed the building to be. Was safe enough for Hizzoner!

Jeremiah Moss said...

why would giuliani show up for a tenement demolition? that makes no sense. very suspicious.

i can't even think about mr. kleinkopf and honey. it's too heartbreaking.

michelle said...

You know what's funny, in the process of this building being torn down floor by floor it stood despite being so called "UNSAFE". If I remember correctly, it finally collapsed on the 1st floor.

My heart sink witnessing this event taking place and I was completely distraught, no horrified at the mere thought of just hours prior, I was sleeping in my bed in that building, now I'm faced with homelessness. We all paid our rent, taxes like everyone else why this had to happen to us? It's disgusting to know that I and those living in that building were all mere causalities to the early process of gentrification.

Thanks for the pic, I tried searching for it via-web but no luck. It's nice to see a little piece of the LES history and mine.