BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Feb. 22, 10 p.m.: The Department of Buildings on Saturday ordered the emergency evacuation of a residential building a block north of Washington Square Park after pieces of the facade crashed to the sidewalk and large cracks opened up on part of the exterior. A second building may also be at risk.
A D.O.B. notice posted on the front door of 10 Fifth Ave., at the northwest corner of Fifth Ave. and Eighth Street, reads: “VACATE: Do Not Enter. The Department of Buildings has determined that conditions in this premises are imminently perilous to life. This premises has been vacated and reentry is prohibited until such conditions have been eliminated to the satisfaction of the department. Violators of this commissioner’s vacate order are subject to arrest.”
An entry on the D.O.B. Building Information System’s Web site states that responding firefighters reported the emergency to Buildings around 7:15 a.m. on Sat., Feb. 18: “[Fire Department] requests an inspection due to masonry falling from facade.”
A D.O.B. inspector assessed the scene on Saturday. On Sunday, D.O.B. posted that an emergency full-vacate order was in effect, stating: “PREMISES UNSAFE TO OCCUPY DUE TO CRACKS AND SEPARATION OF THE RIGHT SIDE OFTHE 5TH AVENUE FACADE.” The actual vacate order on the building’s front door had been posted the day before.
The damaged building, a handsome property constructed in 1880, has 14 residential apartments and three commercial spaces. It’s landmarked since it’s included within the Greenwich Village Historic District. The facade appears to be brown sandstone.
Photos show window lintels at the building’s top right corner having split apart at their middle, where two pieces joined (perhaps the “separation,” the D.O.B. inspector was referring to) — with the gaps looking 2 or 3 inches wide, with nearby other large cracks snaking perilously across the facade.
Going back several months from now, neighbors had been complaining about loud construction noise at the site at 14-16 Fifth Ave. — just north of the damaged building — where a new 18-story condo tower is being erected.
Andy Baum, who lives across from the construction site, offered more insight into what’s actually going on there.
“There are two ‘pile drivers’ on the site at 14 Fifth, as well as an excavator,” he explained. “Actually, they don’t pound, they screw. The ‘pile drivers’ have screw bits that do the digging. The banging we hear happens when the bits are pulled out and they shimmy in order to shed the mud.”
In fact, the two machines, while resembling pile drivers in appearance, are actually known as foundation drills.
“Over all, they seem to be pretty careful at 14 Fifth,” he noted. “Though on several occasions they have been working outside legal hours — past 6 p.m. on weekdays and before 10 a.m. on weekends. But that’s a different story.”
However, D.O.B. is directly linking the situation at 10 Fifth Ave. to the construction project.
A stop-work order “for all foundation and earthwork operations” has been slapped on the project, with D.O.B. noting, “CONSTRUCTION SITE IS CAUSING DAMAGE TO ADJACENT PROPERTY AT 10 5TH AVENUE: ADJACENT BUILDINGS – NOT PROTECTED.”
A 10-story building, 12 Fifth Ave., sits in between the damaged building and the construction site. In fact, air rights (development rights) from 12 Fifth Ave. — which was not initially evacuated — are being used to add height to the project.
Inspectors are currently assessing the condition of 12 Fifth Ave., which, ominously, according to D.O.B., “shows signs of movement.”
In an update on Sunday, the agency’s Web site stated: “BUILDING [12 Fifth Ave.] UNDER STRUCTURAL MONITORING. BUILDING IS ADJACENT TO JOBSITE AT 14 5TH AVE AND SHOWS SIGNS OF MOVEMENT WITH NUMEROUS CRACKS AT NEXT PROPERTY AT 10 5TH AVE.”
Local resident Marguerite Martin was walking her dog Saturday morning when she came upon the startling scene. She gave The Village Sun her report.
“I noticed a lot of emergency vehicles outside of 10 Fifth Ave.,” she said. “It was debris on the sidewalk from the crumbling facade. I spoke to the [construction] foreperson, who told me the D.O.B. will determine if the building is still structurally sound. I asked him if it was caused by demolition and construction next to it and he said sure. This is one of the fears expressed when we fought to save the neighboring buildings. At this point, there’s just a few rocks [fallen pieces of the facade] on the sidewalk, but if you look at the building, there are terrifying cracks all over. Now they are putting up a sidewalk shed to protect pedestrians from falling debris.”
As for why foundation drilling is even needed at the site, it might be because it sits directly in the path of the legendary Minetta Creek. The nearly 2-mile-long brook was one of the largest natural waterways on Manhattan Island when European colonists first arrived. Originating around 10-or-so blocks farther north on Fifth Avenue, the fish-filled watercourse meandered to where Washington Square Park is now, then hung a right along the path of the eponymously named Minetta Lane, before splashing out into the Hudson River at today’s Charlton Street.
In New Amsterdam days, the area around the creek was known as “The Land of the Blacks,” settled by former African slaves who had been freed by the Dutch. Eventually, though, in the 1820s, the once-pristine and bountiful creek was covered over and turned into a lowly sewer.
Yet, while now hidden underground, the natural waterway didn’t disappear. For example, when New York University was building its new Kimmel Center for Student Life on Washington Square South in the early 2000s, constant dewatering was needed to pump out the foundation to keep it from flooding.
In fact, the Viele map from 1865 shows the underground brook angling precisely beneath the corner of Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue where the new luxe tower is being built. Hence, perhaps the apparent need for extra structural support from deep piles.
The construction project at 14-16 Fifth Ave. was fiercely opposed by local residents, in a campaign led by Village Preservation. The scheme, by developer Madison Capital Realty, required the demolition of two low-scale, history-laden, landmarked buildings and replacing them with a soaring sliver tower, initially pitched as 21 stories high, which opponents called noncontextual within the historic district.
Community Board 2 also opposed the plan.
Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, was livid over the latest avoidable calamity within a local historic district. This past November, unpermitted structural work led to the city-ordered demolition of 14 Gay St., while in October 2021, a city-approved plan to save and incorporate the facades of nine landmarked Meatpacking District row houses into a new project (a.k.a. “facadism”) instead resulted in the historic structures’ demolition.
“The situation is infuriating and deeply disturbing,” Berman told the Sun. “The Landmarks Preservation Commission shouldn’t have authorized demolition of 14-16 Fifth Ave., given its historic importance and its location within the Greenwich Village Historic District. And the Landmarks Preservation Commission and D.O.B. should never have authorized construction of the 250-foot-tall tower to take its place without ensuring that appropriate safety measures were being taken to protect adjoining historic buildings.
“Within just the last year, 10 landmark buildings within Greenwich Village have had to be demolished due to work or conditions that took place or appeared on the L.P.C. and D.O.B.’s watch. These two buildings are lost, that’s numbers 11 and 12. That’s not a fluke, a mishap or a spike. That is a clear pattern of ineptitude, or willful disregard for the law and the imperative to preserve and protect historic landmarked buildings.
“These failures have serious consequences,” Berman stressed. “People lose their homes, lives are put in danger and the irreplaceable character and history of our neighborhoods and city are lost. Mayor Adams claims that we need to ‘Get Stuff Built.’ I say he should figure out how to keep stuff standing first.
“We have been in touch with the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission since the situation first became apparent to communicate how critical it is that these buildings be saved,” the preservationist continued. “We’ve also been in touch with Councilmember Bottcher, with whom we worked on other instances of landmarked buildings being destroyed under the city’s watch. The blatant ineptitude here — or worse — must end. We cannot have a city where the most basic expectations about our ability to keep buildings safe and standing is taken for granted.
“The issue is not that construction can’t take place safely, since there are larger and taller buildings all around that site,” Berman added. “The issue is that too many developers don’t care about safety, and the city clearly doesn’t care about forcing them to do so. But the insult added to the injury here is that the city should never have allowed 14-16 Fifth Ave. to be demolished in the first place: That was a historic, landmarked building full of long-term, rent-regulated tenants in affordable apartments. But rather than preserve any of that, the city decided to give Madison Realty Capital what they asked for, in spite of their atrocious record as landlords and developers, and in spite of the clear historic value of the building they sought to destroy and replace.”
As of late Sunday afternoon, Berman said, his understanding is that 12 Fifth Ave. has now also been evacuated and that the fate of both historic buildings is in limbo.
“Last I was told by D.O.B.,” he said, “nothing had been decided yet, but there was a significant danger to both buildings and the situation was being evaluated for both buildings, with monitors being put in place and both buildings evacuated. They said 30 people.”
(It turned out that 30 referred to only the number of tenants who had been living at 10 Fifth Ave. The displaced tenants are being housed at the GEM Hotel and The Hotel at Fifth.)
“Ten Fifth Ave. dates to 1848 and, with the demolition of 14-16 Fifth Ave., it is the sole surviving remnant of a row of brownstone townhomes built by Henry Brevoort, who was largely responsible for developing Fifth Avenue and turning it into New York’s premiere address,” the preservationist noted. “It was the first building to be built on that site. Twelve Fifth Ave., which replaced one of the houses, dates to 1902 and was built as an apartment hotel.”
Sunday evening, Martin reported that, while there was no vacate order posted at 12 Fifth Ave., there were no lights in the windows, leading to speculation that the building was empty and that D.O.B. may, in fact, have already told the residents to vacate. However, Baum said that, in fact, lights were on in the building Sunday night.
Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly stated that pile drivers with screw heads were being used at the 14-16 Fifth Ave. construction site. A spokesperson for the Pile Driving Contractors Association subsequently called The Village Sun to explain that there is no such thing, and that the method being used at the Greenwich Village site, in fact, is known as foundation drilling and the apparatus a foundation drill. As he explained it, foundation drilling bores a shaft into the ground by removing earth, after which concrete can be poured into the hole to create a pile. In pile driving, a steel H-beam, precast concrete pile or even wood is simply pounded into the ground without removing any earth. “We bang it in, pack it in,” he said. Basically, there are two distinct types of machines that do the job differently. “That is a drilling rig that is being used,” he said of 14-16 Fifth Ave., where two drilling rigs, in fact, are actually being used. He said the pile drivers association and the foundation drillers have “a friendly rivalry” and that each side thinks their approach is superior.
Situation is now looking more serious. Both 10 and 12 fifth have been evacuated.
Where did the residents go?
The tenants were placed at the GEM Hotel.
I thought the city had outlawed pile-driving, esp next to historic buildings YEARS ago.
Remember the damage done near there to the Federalist buildings with the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal?
AND on my block, E 5th, when Perseverance House was built, these old tenement buildings jumped and basement cracks were discovered. At one building several buildings away, even the rear wall needed to be shored up, and was replaced. We need to DEMAND there be such a law!
There are less-invasive ways, and those who seek profits should perfect those and use them.
As a neighbor notes in the article, this was not classic pile driving, as in hammering into the ground, but using the pile drivers with “auger” attachments to screw holes into the ground — that are maybe later filled with cement to create the piles? But it sounds like the neighboring buildings and their residents and the historic district are the ones who have been screwed by this project.
Outrageous. The developer should be forced to repair the 2 buildings, regardless of cost. If they can’t, the displaced tenants should be given apartments in the new ultra-luxury condo for free. And the developer and contractor should have their licenses revoked. Sounds like I’m angry, right? Damn straight. As Andrew Berman said, it can’t be a coincidence that this keeps happening over and over. The real estate industry often seems to represent the worst in our society (witness TFG).
I am guessing that the developers want to get 10 Fifth Avenue & 12 Fifth Avenue out of the way so they can incorporate the property into the structure of 14-16 Fifth Avenue. Just a hunch.
No doubt, the developer will invoke their added expense of reimbursing for damaging the 2 properties, the added economic burden. Like the child that kills his parents and pleads for mercy, since he’s an orphan.
The Pile Driving & Banging went on for weeks starting @ 7AM before the Augers were used.
Does anyone remember that the vote among the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners was tied at 4-4? The tie was broken in favor of the developer by the Chairperson of the Commission. Given that four of her members voted against the demolition of these historic buildings, the serious outcry from people who actually live in the neighborhood, and the strenuous opposition from the Village Preservation society, the chairperson, in my opinion, had a duty to vote to preserve the buildings at 14-16 Fifth Avé. She utterly failed all of us. Now what? Two other buildings are at risk of being taken down because of a project that should never have been approved in the first place. Shame on the L.P.C. chairperson and the greedy developers who don’t give a lick about our neighborhood, only the dollars they hope to stuff into their pockets. Shut down this project!
May we know the name of the Chairperson please?
Maybe let the LPC chairperson live in Nos. 10 or 12 Fifth during the repair period or demolition, as a sign of the commission’s good faith when they voted to approve this project?
This is absolutely egregious. But even worse it was predictable! Andrew Berman and the community battled to save the demolished buildings because they knew what could happen. Were the LPC not working hand in glove with developers all over this city this would never have happened. But it did happen, again! Just like on Gay Street. Just like the Jacob Dangler House in Bed-Stuy that was turned to rubble waiting for a decision by the LPC to landmark it — a decision conveniently that did not come. I say there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark! The LPC no longer carries out its mandate, which is, after all, “historic preservation.” This is the City of New York, for God’s sake. Have a little respect for its history!
Developers’ takeover of New York City is runaway capitalism and corruption and it stinks. It makes me so sad to see the city I love and have lived in most of my life being destroyed and mangled and my beloved neighbors pushed out. It is happening in every neighborhood but feels like it might be the worst Downtown.
This incident sent shivers up my spine. I reside in one of four townhouses near the intersection of 3rd Street and 2nd Ave. Our homes were shaken to the core with last year’s demolition of the former Church of the Nativity, its rectory and half of the former La Salle Academy on 2nd Ave and 2nd St. These buildings were the only ones never landmarked and developers salivated at the opportunity to build another hideous 12 luxury apartment complex. The site was sold to the highest bidder, despite organized and passionate disapproval from the neighborhood, and now every residential building around it is in jeopardy of irreparable structural damage from their attempts to pile drive 10 feet from our foundations. We were shaken awake 6 days a week for months during demolition. The engineers are shameless in their flouting of agreements and promises and we spend our days fighting to save our buildings from ruin. It is costly and soul crushing.