Many if not most New Yorkers state that their favorite building in the city is the Chrysler Building. This view is not without merit, but since about 2000, Startsandfits.com’s favorite building in the city was a modest nine-story warehouse standing derelict at the northeast corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 123rd Street. The building was absolutely beautiful. The faded but brilliant red brick, the complimentary deeper red used as a trim, the ornate roof line, the sparing placement of rough-hewn stone, the angular corner turret, even the phone number, MO2-6700, carefully painted on the side in yellow and black all evoked a New York long since passed.
The richness and expense of all these details were all the more poignant when one stopped to think that this attention was paid to the design of a warehouse. It reminded a passer by that there was a time, before the automobile made buildings things to be whizzed passed at 40 miles per hour, that people cared enough about the places where they lived to decorate them so lovingly.
I say that the building “was” my favorite because it is partially demolished now, after a tragic accident that happened just as the building was being restored. In 2001 and 2002 it underwent renovations that were to provide 41 apartments, a 7,000-square foot cultural facility, and 6,100 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. The project was to cost $14.4 million, and was overseen by the Harlem Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation. But decades of neglect had taken their toll. On April 2, 2002, the creaky wooden seventh floor collapsed as a construction worker, Modesto Olivo, Sr., 53, a Dominican immigrant who lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was repairing it. He fell through seven stories to the basement, and was pronounced dead shortly afterward at St. Luke’s Hospital. After the collapse, 24 apartments in the building next door were evacuated and service on the adjacent A, B, C and D lines was suspended for four hours. Rather than continue restoration after the accident, people with a say in such things decided to demolish the building entirely. Demolition has been slow, and is continuing, though, sadly, it appears that preparations are being made to finish soon.
Interestingly enough, this was apparently a building that did not want to come back to life. In April 1985, 90 people received medical treatment after being exposed to hazardious material fumes after a fire broke during renovations of the building, apparently halting the renovation work. The Dwyer Warehouse’s shell stands as a reminder that the decades of urban disinvestment that left the building vacant for so long may yet have more casualties to come.
I had to take a few more photographs of the shell before this treasure is completely gone. Here is an image of the building before the south facade was torn down. Does anybody have any images of the building when it was intact?