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.
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.