Playing Detective

by Don Friedman on March 12, 2019


First, the DoB can always use more good engineers, so I take that message seriously. I’m not a recent grad or student, but I hope the department gets a good group of applicants.

Second, that picture fascinates me. A long time ago, I fell in love with building investigation. Figuring out what’s going on in an old building is a mystery story where you’re the detective. Sometimes the answer is critically important and sometimes it’s boring, but finding the answer is always interesting. So, what’s going on in that picture? The following is, more or less in order as I remember it, my train of thought about what it is we’re seeing.

  • The stepped pyramid with a gold ball on top is instantly recognizable if you know lower Manhattan. It’s the tower of the old AT&T Building. There used to be a statue on top of the ball. That’s at Broadway and Dey Street, so we have one fixed point of reference.
  • If this is on lower Broadway, then the black monolith on the right has to be the US Steel Building. That’s at Broadway and Liberty Street.
  • Now that we have two points of reference, we have a general idea of where we are. AT&T is north of USS, so we have to be looking from the southwest towards the northeast. West of these buildings is the World Trade Center site.
  • The DoB typically doesn’t put American flags on things. But pretty much everyone who worked at the WTC site between late 2001 and 2003 has, somewhere, a hard hat with a flag decal and maybe some other decal relic of the 9-11 clean up. So this is some time after late 2001.
  • The building the fellow from the DoB is standing on is intact but being demolished piecemeal: you can see where the column near to him was burned off at its top.
  • The building being demolished has wide-flange columns (implying a construction date most likely after World War II), and the column we can see is fairly heavy (implying a large building).
  • We’re reasonably high up. Looking at the neighboring buildings, we’re somewhere between the 8th and 12th floor, at a guess.
  • There are only two tall steel-frame buildings that have been demolished southwest of the USS building since 2001: 74 Trinity Place, and 130 Liberty Street. 74 Trinity was built in the 1920s, so it is extremely unlikely that it had wide-flange columns. So, we’re left with 130 Liberty Street, which had a troubled demolition that stretched from 2007 to 2011. Because of the accidents at the demo site, there was quite a bit of DoB presence there, which would explain the photo.

And the picture is now explained enough for me to stop thinking about it.

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