The recent crane collapse in New York City was national news, and it wasn't long ago that another Gotham crane catastrophe made headlines. Both accidents were the result of negligence, and both resulted in fatalities.
I'm no apologist, but given the ubiquity of cheap, new development in the city, it seems unsurprising that rushed workers and inspectors are guilty of oversight. The visibly shoddy construction of the "luxury condominiums" rising in Manhattan, Long Island City and Williamsburg is testament to the developers' prioritizing of profit over quality. I'm staggered by the asking prices for these apartments, and baffled that people are willing to pay them. But I shouldn't be; in the tri-state real estate game, location trumps all.
But then why, I wonder, has the vacant lot on East 13th Street remained unchanged for eight years? When I moved to New York in 1999, I was fascinated by the property. I learned that it was once the Jefferson Theater, a vaudeville house that played host to the Marx Brothers and Mae West, among other notables. The Jefferson was eventually - late 1930s, perhaps - turned into an RKO movie theater and, then, in the seventies and beyond, the building served a number of purposes, including a brief resurrection as a night club. (Indeed, the bricks strewn throughout the lot are the structure's remains. The theater was demolished in 1999, just before I moved to the city.)
In 2004, the lot received local media attention when a dead body was discovered nearby, folded neatly into an abandoned steamer trunk. The lot's owner, Milstein Properties, then claimed that development was slated to begin within the year. Four years later, I'm hoping that the old Jefferson won't be covered with a condominium anytime soon.
Whenever I walk by, I pause to watch European starlings scavenging among the strewn bricks, and to appreciate the relatively rustic aesthetics of the site. For me, the lot is less an eyesore than an oasis. Long live the Jefferson.
Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2008