Volume 18 • Issue 14 | August 26 - September 01, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Firefighters on the scene at 496 LaGuardia Pl. after a partial collapse of a rear wall last Sunday night.

Just a veneer of panic, as false wall collapses near Houston St.

By Jefferson Siegel

Two Downtown buildings were temporarily evacuated Sunday night when a portion of a veneer wall collapsed, sending bricks and debris into a rear courtyard. There were no injuries.

Just before 7 p.m., police received a call about a building collapse at 496 LaGuardia Pl., just north of Houston St. The building, comprising a four- and five-story structure, has 12 apartments. Fire Department Chief Plant of Battalion 2 said a veneer, or false wall layered on top of the building’s outer wall, had partially collapsed. The veneer was not a load-bearing wall and the collapse did not pose any structural threat to the building. Chief Plant noted the veneer wall was layered outside the original mortise-and-tenon wall and was reinforced with cinderblock.

Houston St. and LaGuardia Pl. were lined with emergency and firefighters’ vehicles, including local Engines 5 and 33, Ladders 5 and 20, Squad 18 and Rescue 1.

Of the 12 apartments, three faced the rear and their residents were to be evacuated overnight as a safety precaution. Steve Hook, a resident of apartment 2A, was home Sunday evening, when “I heard a loud bang,” he said. “It was more like a clap of thunder. I looked outside and couldn’t see anything.” As he spoke, he was standing outside the building with overnight bags slung over his shoulders. He was on his way to a hotel for the night. Another couple, from apartment 2C had already left. Mr. and Mrs. Lee, residents of apartment 3C for 10 years, stood talking with the condo president, who informed them the Red Cross would find them a local hotel room for the night.

Standing among the responders was Councilmember Alan Gerson, who lives across the street in 505 LaGuardia Pl. Gerson said he received calls shortly after the collapse and came out to offer his assistance.

Next to the building entrance, Daniel Tse, owner of the adjacent Reno shoe store, was pulling down the security gate. He said his business did not suffer any damage except for a damaged front door, which firefighters had forced open when they arrived. He expected to be open the following morning.

Around the corner, at 90 W. Houston St., a 10-unit apartment building was also temporarily evacuated. The city’s Office of Emergency Management said most residents had been allowed to return except for four apartments in the “R” line, which face the back.

As a precaution, the Department of Buildings wanted to board up the windows of those four apartments and expected work to be completed by late Sunday night.


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