New York, NY Strathmore Apartment House Collapse, Dec 1920

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Building Collapses On Broadway; One To Six Believed Dead In Ruins; Many Hurt, Saved by Daring Rescuers

Traffic Tied Up By Crash

Perilous Condition of Ruins Causes Order to Halt All Rescue Work.

One Workman Is Missing

Overload on Third Floor Thought to Have Caused Nine-Story Structure to Fall.

It Was Being Remodeled

Injunction Had Been Sought to Prevent Reconstruction While Building Was Occupied.

The Strathmore, a nine-story brick apartment house at Broadway and Fifty-Second Street, which was being converted into an office building, collapsed fro man unknown cause just after 4:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon. A score of persons were injured, one of them seriously, a number of others had astonishing escapes and from one to six lifeless bodies are believed to be buried in the tons of debris which filled the building from the basement to the third story and crashed into Fifty-Second Street, crushing the wooden structure, designed to protect pedestrians, as though it had been of paper.

It will probably be three days before wreckers have penetrated far enough into the tangled mass of bricks, plaster, wooden beams and iron girders to recover the bodies which it is feared lie under the ruins. Meantime only one workman definitely has been reported missing, but the unclaimed overcoats of four others hang in the lockers in the basement, mute suggestions that their owners did not escape.

Whether anyone lies buried under the tons of wreckage sprawling half way across Fifty-Second Street and a dozen feet deep is equally uncertain. Several persons that were passing are known to have escaped, but officials regarded it as a virtual certainty that if any one was immediately in front of the part of the building which fell first, that person was killed.

Ruins Closed to Rescuers.

The condition of the structure was so dangerous after the collapse that Fire Department officers refused to allow their men in it, arguing that it was not fair to sent live men to almost certain death when any trapped within were surely lost.

Firemen who first arrived made exciting and dangerous rescues from the store of the Sidney Bowman Automobile Company on the ground floor corner of the building where several persons were pinned under the wreckage, but it was not possible for them to stay inside the building when more walls, floors and ceilings were threatening to crash down any moment.

Later, while thousands watched from behind the police lines a block away in each direction, wreckers under the supervision of the Building Department swarmed like monkeys along the shaking south wall, about half of which still was standing and pushed it into the street with a roar and clatter and a shower of dust. Awed watchers thought surely the daring pigmies atop the building were buried in the avalanche they had created, but hardly had the dust clouds died away when they came sauntering out to receive the cheers of the crowd.

This work of further wrecking was deemed necessary before the work of combing through the debris for the bodies believed to lie under it could be begun. A hundred men were put on that task late at night, as soon as the wreckers had dislodged everything that threatened to come down.

24 Hours to Clear Street.

It was estimated that the street could be cleared within twenty-four hours. It will be much longer before workmen can penetrate through the mass choking such of the shell as it stands.

The building was being remodeled by the Startmore Leasing Company, of which Walter J. Salmon, real estate operator and turf man, is President. It was also said that Mr. Salmon owned the building, but this was not confirmed. Police investigators said Mr. Salmon was his own contractor on the job. The iron work was being done by the Paul Chapman Engineering Company of the Fitzgerald Building, who did the iron work of the Capitol Theatre, largest structure of its kind in the country. The police did not learn last night whether the Chapman concern was doing all the work or whether other contractors were engaged.

Frederick Kuehnle, Chief Inspector of the Building Department, who was one of the first city officials to arrive, said the Chapman concern enjoyed an excellent reputation, and that the plans for the remodeling had been approved by his office before the work was undertaken. He said further that District Inspector Shields of his office visited the work yesterday afternoon, being accustomed to examine it two or three times a week, and found nothing to condemn.

Mr. Kuehnle gave it as his early opinion, based upon only casual inspection, that individual workmen were to blame for the collapse. He said many iron girders and beams were being used in the work, and that it seemed probable too many of these had been piled in one place on the third floor, and that it well might be that an overload on that floor, from which the work was proceeding upward, had brought about the collapse.

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