Posts Tagged ‘Local Law 11 New York City’

How a student’s senseless death led to a New York behind scaffolding

May 22, 2023

Manhattan these days is swathed in scaffolding. Every block or two, building facades disappear behind wooden planks and metal poles, and pedestrians are often rerouted through boarded sidewalk sheds that are more like tunnels.

While scaffolding can go up (and stay up, sometimes for years) for a variety of reasons, one is something called Local Law 11—which mandates that any building more than six stories tall undergo an inspection of the facade every five years. Landlords or boards are then tasked with fixing damages.

Scaffolding is unsightly, and after dark it’s a little unnerving. But Local Law 11 and the scaffolding it requires exist for a powerful reason: a terrible tragedy in 1979 that resulted in the death of a 17-year-old college student walking in Morningside Heights.

The student was Grace Gold. Born and raised in Brooklyn and a graduate of John Dewey High School, Gold had been finishing up her freshmen year at Barnard College and living in a dorm at 616 West 116th Street, according to a New York Times article from May 17 of that year.

Out for a walk the night before around 8:20 p.m., Gold was talking to a friend in front of the vestibule of an 11-story apartment building at 601 West 115th Street (below) owned by Columbia University. Suddenly a block of cement from an upper-floor window lintel broke off and struck her in the head, killing her.

“It just came straight down and hit her,” a witness told the New York Daily News.

That could have been the end of the story—a terrible tragic death, described as a “10 million to one possibility” by a police detective quoted in the Times article.

Instead, city officials proposed legislation. In 1980, Local Law 10 was passed; the law “required building owners, including co-op and condo boards, to perform regular inspections and repairs of facades,” states a 2019 Habitat magazine piece.

“The law later morphed into Local Law 11 and is now known as the Facade Inspection and Safety Program,” continues Habitat. “It explains the ubiquitous sidewalk sheds throughout the city, which are designed to protect passersby and prevent tragic deaths like Grace Gold’s when workers perform mandated facade inspections and repairs.”

Lori Gold, Grace’s sister, lobbied the city to change the law’s name to the Grace Gold Law. The city didn’t make the change—but they did give the corner of Broadway and 115th Street an honorary name: Grace Gold Way.

It took Gold’s senseless death to get the city to pass laws requiring owners to maintain building facades. The law hasn’t put a stop to building debris falling on pedestrians, and scaffolding abandoned and left in limbo by owners poses its own risks.

But Gold’s legacy has been to make city streets a little safer, and it’s something to think about next time we collectively groan at all the scaffolding surrounding us.

[Second image: New York Daily News; third image: Google]