Why did the Selwyn Theatre's office building collapse Dec. 30, 1997?
According to an investigation by the Buildings Commissioner, reported on by the New York Times (Aug. 7), the accident happened because of a company working on a nearby 42nd Street construction site didn't do enough to make sure the Selwyn was stable.
In their plans, the Big Apple Wrecking and Construction Corporation (a Tishman Realty subcontractor) apparently promised to put steel and concrete underpinnings under the Selwyn. When they didn't, the Times reports, "the building slid off its foundation and collapsed."
The Times also notes that a decade ago, Big Apple president Harold Greenberg was convicted of bribing a Federal inspector to overlook asbestos removal violations in a different project. Also, the company was involved in a collapse six years ago at a Post Office near Lincoln Center.
Commissioner Gaston Silva said the city would cite Big Apple with several costly violations, but he's limited in taking punitive action because demolition contractors don't need licenses -- something Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is trying to solve via a proposal he submitted for City Council legislation earlier this year. The Selwyn office building, next door to the 1918 Selwyn Theatre in midtown Manhattan, collapsed Dec. 30, apparently due to a punishing storm that began the previous afternoon. The theatre, which reportedly was not damaged in the collapse, is in the process of being renovated as a new home for Broadway's Roundabout Theatre Company as part of the 42nd Street renaissance. Initially, officials blamed the collapse on the building's age, combined with the nearby demolition and renovation of other buildings on the block, combined with a heavy wind and rain storm. Tishman Realty apparently noticed cracks in the ground floor, but the company's seismic measuring devices didn't indicate immediate trouble. Unlike the recent Times Square scaffolding incident, no one was injured in the collapse.
-- By David Lefkowitz