Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SHERRY-NETHERLAND HOTEL, NYC


On April 12, 1927, a spectacular fire engulfed scaffolds wrapping around the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan.

A dispatch in the next day's  Portsmouth Herald of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said:

"Like a huge torch that could be seen for many miles, the superstructure between the 30th and 38th floors of 559-foot Sherry Netherlands Tower, under construction at 59th St. and 5th Ave., burst into flames last night.

"The fire was in wooden scaffolding atop the completed 20 stories of the structue. Firemen were handicapped in reaching the blaze, as the equipment was found inadequate for sending any quantity of water to that height."

An excerpt from the book "One Summer in America, 1927" provides a detailed account:


"On a warm spring evening just before Easter 1927, people who lived in tall buildings in New York were given pause when wooden scaffolding around the tower of the brand-new Sherry-Netherland Apartment Hotel caught fire and it became evident that the city’s firemen lacked
any means to get water to such a height.

"Crowds flocked to Fifth Avenue to watch the blaze, the biggest the city had seen in years.

"At thirty-eight stories, the Sherry-Netherland was the tallest residential building ever erected, and the scaffolding – put there to facilitate the final stages of construction – covered the top fifteen stories, providing enough wood to make a giant blaze around its summit.

"From a distance, the building looked rather like a just-struck match.

"The flames were visible twenty miles away.

"Up close, the scene was much more dramatic.

 "Sections of burning scaffolding up to fifty feet long fell from a height of five hundred feet and crashed in clattering showers of sparks in the streets below, to the gleeful cries of the spectators and the peril of toiling firemen.

"Burning embers dropped onto the roofs of neighboring buildings, setting four of them alight."

"Firemen trained their hoses on the Sherry-Netherland building, but it was a token gesture since their streams could not rise above the third or fourth story.

"Fortunately, because the building was unfinished it was unoccupied.


"People in 1920s America were unusually drawn to spectacle and by 10 pm the crowd had grown to an estimated hundred thousand people – an enormous gathering for a spontaneous event.

"Seven hundred policemen had to be brought in to keep order.

 "Some wealthy observers, deflected from their evening revels, took rooms in the Plaza Hotel across the street and held impromptu “fire room parties,” according to the New York Times.

"Mayor Jimmy Walker turned up to have a look and got soaked when he wandered into the path of a hose.

"A moment later a flaming ten-foot-long plank crashed onto the pavement near him and he accepted advice to withdraw.

"The fire did extensive damage to the upper reaches of the building, but luckily did not spread downwards and burned itself out about midnight.


"The flames and smoke provided some welcome diversion to two men, Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta, who had been flying in circles in a small plane above Roosevelt Field on Long Island since 9:30 that morning.

"They were doing so in an attempt to break the world endurance record set two years earlier by two French aviators."

Friday, January 20, 2017

BROOKLYN, SUMMER OF 1977




In July 1977, fire broke out at an abandoned factory in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn and destroyed four city blocks.

According to The New York Times:


``On July 13, 1977, a power failure plunged New York City into darkness and, within minutes, mobs of looters raced through dilapidated blocks of wood-frame apartments toward Broadway, the neighborhood's main shopping street.
``By morning, the street, shrouded in the shadows of an elevated train line, was a shambles of broken glass, wooden police barricades, looted stores, flames and smoke - the most heavily damaged street in the city during a steamy night of looting, with 124 stores ruined.

``That was the first blow to the Bushwick section. A few days later, as a less spectacular trail of arson, drugs and crime wove its way through half-abandoned side streets, a 10-alarm fire, one of the largest structural fires in the city's history, erupted near another anchor of the neighborhood, Myrtle Avenue, and destroyed 24 buildings in a four-block area.''