Battle of the bulge as co-op’s bricks start to slip

By Jefferson Siegel

Last Friday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. the Fire Department received a call of bricks falling from the facade of 2 Fifth Ave., between Eighth St. and Washington Square North. But no bricks actually fell.

“We found 25 feet of brick bulging out,” Deputy Chief James Daly of the Fire Department’s Division 1 told The Villager. Daly said the area involved was between the 17th and 18th floors on a north-facing facade on Fifth Ave. 

The Fire Department’s Special Operations Unit erected temporary wood bracing on the exterior of the two floors, anchored by additional wood supports inside the two affected apartments. 

“A spandrel wall weakened between the windows,” Daly explained. A spandrel wall is the area between the top of a window and the lower sill of another window directly above it. Fire officials feared the 25-foot area of facade was in danger of collapse. 

As the wall bulged out and wood supports were secured, representatives from various city agencies, including police, fire, the Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Buildings, plus Con Ed, stood on Fifth Ave. contemplating their next move.  

Daly said a scaffold would be erected the next morning, after which removal of the bulging bricks would begin. In the interim, residents were able to enter and leave the building through a service entrance on W. Eighth St.  

There were no injuries. The building was not evacuated, although residents of the two affected apartments were forced to vacate; officials were unsure when they would be able to return. The Red Cross was on the scene to assist residents of the two apartments in finding temporary housing. 

The two units also suffered minor interior damage as wood supports were installed to shore up the lumber bracing the exterior wall.  

The block of Fifth Ave. in front of the building was closed to traffic for the remainder of the day. Downtown traffic was diverted onto Eighth St. Service on the M8 cross-town bus was not affected. 

According to the building’s Web site, restoration of balconies, the facade and roof was undertaken in 2001. “Tons” of bricks were replaced and cement repoured on balconies, the Web site states.

A portion of the city’s Building Code, known as Local Law 10, requires the owners of all buildings taller than six stories to have their facades inspected once every five years. LL10 was passed in 1980 after a pedestrian was killed by a piece of falling masonry while walking past an Upper West Side building. 

The block-long cooperative residence, designed by Emery Roth and Sons, was completed in 1951 and contains 320 apartments on 20 floors. It has a distinctive semicircular driveway along the main entrance. There are several medical offices and a real estate brokerage on the ground floor. A small fountain in the lobby sports a tube with water bubbling up in it that is purportedly from Minetta Stream.

The building, which converted from rentals to a co-op in 1986, employs a staff of 29. Former Mayor Ed Koch lives there.

Prior to the building’s construction, the site was home to 11 houses known as the Rhinelander brownstones.