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Car accident on Park Avenue viaduct 1940s Round Up of Architectural Accidents Vintage NYC Photography Untapped Cities Sabrina RomanoCar Accident on Park Avenue viaduct, 1940s

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. From technological accidents to natural disasters, with tragedy mixed in, here we have some of the notable “architectural” accidents throughout history. As investigators search for answers on the Sunday fire that destroyed the interior of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St Salva, formerly Trinity Chapel, we present accidents lost to time that shocked the city’s residents.

One note: though there have certainly been more deadly incidents, like the General Slocum shipwreck or 9/11, we have stuck here to non-deliberate accidents and those of interesting architectural nature.

1. Empire State Building Plane Crash, 1945

Bomber crashes into Empire State Building Round Up of Architectural Accidents Vintage NYC Photography Untapped Cities Sabrina RomanoBomber Crashed into Empire State Building, July 28, 1945. 

On a foggy morning in July 1945, an experienced and decorated World War II pilot was flying a B-25 Mitchell Bomber from the Army base in Bedford, Massachusetts to Newark, New Jersey on a mission to return a few servicemen home. Approaching the airport, pilot William Franklin Smith Jr. prepared for landing despite warnings of low visibility. He was able to get through most of the Manhattan skyline, but made a wrong turn and hit the 79th floor of the Empire State Building

The crash created a hole on the side of the skyscraper 18 feet wide and 20 feet high. The fuel tank exploded, hurling flames through the stairs and the hallways down to the 75th floor, killing 14 and injuring 26. All three on the plane were killed along with 11 people in the Empire State Building, mostly women from the National Catholic Welfare Conference. The building was repaired at a cost of $1 million.

It was a sad end for Smith Jr., who during World War II had been awarded the “Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre as a member of the 457th Bomb Group,” Time reports.

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5 Responses
  1. Marc Leslie Kagan Reply

    Here are two more Architectural Accidents and Disasters In New York City’s History:
    1. December 12, 1946 – an unused ice-manufacturing plant caught fire early on December 12, 1946, and its concrete roof and thirty-six-inch wall collapsed on the rear of an adjoining six-floor tenement building at 2515 Amsterdam Avenue at 1:19 A.M., trapping ninety-four residents in the debris and eventuality killing thirty-seven people.
    2. At 12:07 A.M, on October 3, 1962, a steam boiler exploded in a two-story, yellow-brick and cinder-block building operated by the New York Telephone Company at 213th Street and Broadway. It hurtled through several walls and a ceiling, killing twenty-three of the office workers mostly women and injuring ninety-four persons. New York Fire Commissioner Edward Thompson attributed the explosion to overheating “due to the automatic devices which regulate the high and low water level.” It was the first time the boiler had been used during a time when the conversion from air conditioning to heat was being made.

  2. Marc Leslie Kagan Reply

    Here are two more Architectural Accidents and Disasters In New York City:
    1. December 12, 1946 – an unused ice-manufacturing plant caught fire early on December 12, 1946, and its concrete roof and Thirty-six-inch was collapsed on the rear of an adjoining six-floor tenement building at 2515 Amsterdam Avenue at 1:19 A.M., trapping ninety-four residents in the debris and eventuality killing thirty-seven people.
    2. At 12:07 A.M, on October 3, 1962, a steam boiler exploded in a two-story, yellow-brick and cinder-block building operated by the New York Telephone Company at 213th Street and Broadway. It hurtled through several walls and a ceiling, killing twenty-three of the office workers mostly women and injuring ninety-four persons. New York Fire Commissioner Edward Thompson attributed the explosion to overheating “due to the automatic devices which regulate the high and low water level.” It was the first time the boiler had been used during a time when the conversion from air conditioning to heat was being made.

  3. Bernhard Behling Reply

    The Hindenberg was a rigid airship, not a blimp, and as already been noted, that disaster took place well outside the city limits.

  4. Wesley Greenbaum Reply

    Interesting list, but strange that the Hindenberg disaster is included, considering that it can’t really be considered architectural, plus it happened a good 50 miles outside of New York City.

  5. Bradley Laing Reply

    Thought: New York City does have safety and building inspectors, plus a lot of newspaper reporters. How many “in the nick of time” incidents were there of cleared buildings, or cleared streets, shortly before collapses, explosions, fires, and so on?

    Could you do an article about those?

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