110 West 123 Collapses To The Ground

A little after 4pm today Dan and I felt what I thought was an earthquake. Our whole building did a quick, but major shake. It wasn’t an earthquake – a building down the street form ours (110 West 123rd Street) collapsed to the ground – only about 15 minutes after Dan walked past the building…

building collapse

A permit to do structural work had been pulled a few weeks ago, and they had started work earlier this week. First a construction fence, and then I saw the ground floor was pretty much gutted. Given what I had seen I thought for a moment about calling 311 and asking that a structural inspector check out the job to make sure everything is safe. But I didn’t call. Lesson learned on that one. Guess there are times when being a meddlesome neighbor is a good thing.

There was an empty lot to the left (east) and the block association’s community garden to the right (west). The building was sold late last September for $600,000. The last two SRO tenants had stopped living there around November, and the new owner put it on the market for $1.1M in December.

I had taken a couple clients through the house back in December/January. There were serious structural problems evident in the cellar. Here are some pictures of what the foundation looked like…

bracing to support failing structure

In the picture above you can see that they had put bracing in to support the structure that was failing. You can also see that a portion of the foundation had failed and was patched with cinder blocks.

In the picture below you can see another part of the foundation that failed was patched with brick…

brick patch of foundation

One of the times I went through it our contractor joined us. He told us he was “scared of the building”. That it was the type of building that could collapse without warning if you messed with it. He wasn’t worried so much about the patches as he was about parts of the foundation where the mortar was missing…

missing mortar in foundation

All in all it was VERY spooky to be in that cellar. You could just feel trouble. It wasn’t just that it was dark and dank – I go through a lot of places like that. It was all the bracing and patching.

The problems with the building were evident even outside the building. We were in the community garden next door a few weeks ago and I snapped this photo of the corner of the building…

problems at corner

Stuff like that just isn’t good – especially when combined with a wonky foundation.

The extension you see in the picture above is actually interesting. It hadn’t settled, but the rest of the building had. So at one point the floor sloped rather dramatically – probably went up 9 inches over as many feet.

The origin of the problems is that the townhouse used to be part of a row of townhouses, but over time all but this one were torn down. It was never designed to be a freestanding house. To be a freestanding house it needed a lot of reinforcement.

Our contractor said it would be best to tear the place down and start over. If it had to be salvaged you’d have to cocoon it and put walls all around it. Problem is, the garden folks didn’t want to give up land, and the party wall on the other side was already 6″ over the property line. I’m not sure there was really a way to save this building. At most, the fa├žade could have been braced and the rest of the building demolished.

I will say it’s unusually lucky that the workers had left the site when the collapse happened and the community garden was closed and locked. Apparently no one was even walking past. While demolition was most likely what was needed – there are cheaper ways to demolish a building. The City is going to want to get paid all the overtime for their workers. NYPD, FDNY, Parks Department, etc. Apparently right now they’re taking every piece of the building out, spreading it on the street to look for body parts and anything else that can help them in their investigation – how much is that going to cost?

Inside it was a grand townhouse – 20 foot wide. There were some incredible fireplaces…

great old fireplace

And a grand staircase…

The ceilings were really high, and on parlor there were some that had great plaster work…

In fact the ceilings were so high that the 5th floor could see over it’s neighbors to the south – all the way to midtown.

It’s sad to see buildings like this die, but alas, it happens…

3 thoughts on “110 West 123 Collapses To The Ground

  1. Thank God no one was hurt. Too often during my work day I see buildings like this in which people work under perilous conditions. When I see it I report it to OSHA. To my dismay complaints have been made to my organization by OSHA, implying that I have filed what they deem are frivolous complaints. I will continue to stand firm in my belief that no building is worth a life.

  2. Almost a miracle no one was hurt. I was especially interested when I saw this story on Curbed, and found your site. I’m not in real estate, and I not looking, but I recently wrote a series of articles on an actress, Ruth Chatterton, who was born in the area before the turn of the 20th century in a townhouse on E129th, and I developed an interest in the area, its history, and current developments. So when I saw your website dedicated to this subject, I was quite pleased, and wish I had found it earlier! I left more info and questions in a comment on the “high-five” archived post . . . Thanks!

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