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A Fortuitous Exchange

When the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition asked the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for help locating original building files for the Brown Building at 23-29 Washington Place, the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, we knew exactly where to look. The New York City Department of Records (aka Municipal Archives) is the repository for Manhattan’s Department of Building’s “Block and Lot” files, which contain historic building permits dating all the way back to when the Department of Buildings was created in 1865.

Photo courtesy New York Public Library

The files for the loft building, built in 1900-1901 as the Asch building (it was later renamed the Brown Building), revealed a fortuitous exchange between the City’s Department of Buildings and the architect for the building.

"Application #382 N.B.1900 is disapproved with the following objections" May 7, 1900, Courtesy NYC Department of Records

The document above is a list of objections, sent from the Department of Buildings to the architect, cited for disapproval of the permit for the building’s original construction in 1900. We were particularly interested in the third item on the list, which reads, “An additional continuous line of stairs must be provided”.

"... which, in my opinion, is sufficient." May 8, 1900, Courtesy NYC Department of Records

A follow-up response from the John Woolley, the architect, asks for a modification of the Building Law so that the building could be approved without an additional staircase. Woolley was apparently of the opinion that one fire escape and two staircases were sufficient.

Testimony from those who escaped the 1911 fire revealed that access to the two stairwells proved difficult.

GVSHP is proud to participate in the 100th Anniversary Commemoration of the Triangle Fire.

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