On May 19th, it will be 35 years since Grace Gold, a Barnard College freshman, was struck and killed by a falling piece of masonry at 115th Street and Broadway. Her death sparked in 1980 what was then called Local Law 10, requiring facade inspections. Preservationists warned that wholesale stripping of architectural ornament would result. A survey of Upper West Side buildings in 1993 and today indicates otherwise.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are many reports of injuries and deaths caused by objects falling from buildings. Most accidents occurred during construction when stones fell out of slings or hammers slipped out of hands.
Builders were required to erect sidewalk sheds around buildings under construction, and in 1897 what The Real Estate Record and Guide called “a bill to petticoat buildings” was introduced in the City Council, requiring buildings under construction over 85 feet high to be enclosed by a metal or wooden barrier to keep the streets safe. The law was not enacted.
Among the buildings of that period that later lost most of its exterior décor was the Dacornel (now named the Deerfield) apartments at Riverside Drive and 145th Street, built in 1910 and designed by George and Edward Blum. On this building the brothers’ trademark tapestry brick was more subdued than usual, and they added a large projecting copper cornice. They had used cornices on other projects, but were among the few architects in New York who were partial to leaving them off, sometimes giving their buildings a naked look up top. The Dacornel/Deerfield, which held onto its cornice and balconies until around 2006, definitely looks that way now.