Saturday, July 16, 2011

Equitable Considers A 20-Story Building,

January 13, 1912, New York Times, "Equitable Considers A 20-Story Building,"

Wrote Agents It Had "Decided" to Put One Up, but This Was Incorrect.


Workmen Begin to Clear Away Debris---More Donations for the Familes of Victims.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society, it was learned yesterday, sent out a printed circular to its 500 agents throughout the country, last Wednesday, telling them that the burning of the Equitable Building was not at all to be taken as a misfortune because the Society "had already concluded arrangements to remove the building and to erect a 20-story structure in its place."

Information concerning the circular reached reporters by chance yesterday and they asked E.E. Rittenhouse, Conservation Commissioner of the Society, about it. Mr. Rittenhouse who, since the fire has been strenuously denying that there were any new building plans in the wind, denied at first all knowledge of the circular. After a consultation with President William A. Day later in the afternoon, Mr. Rittenhouse said:

"It is true that last Wednesday President Day sent out a printed circular to our 500 agents stating that before the fire took place the Society had already concluded arrangements to remove the building and replace it by a 20-story structure. But the word "concluded" in the circular was the wrong word. It should have been "considered." The facts of the matter are that the Society as already stated had been dissatisfied with the old building for some time, because it wasn't returning interest on the invested capital tied up in the land on which it was built. A project for tearing the old building down and erecting---not a show building of 65 stories---but a 20-story building which would yield an adequate interest on the tied up capital, was discussed. It was referred to the Finance Committee of the Society for consideration. The Finance Committee never reported on the project, however. So the word "concluded" in the circular is a mistake."

Mr. Rittenhouse refused to give out a copy of the circular on the ground that the Society regarded all communications to its agents as confidential. The circular covers two large pages, is dated Jan. 10, 1912, and is signed by President Day. Here is the second paragraph of the circular in full:

The net loss sustained by the company from the fire is trifling. For we had already concluded to remove the building in the near future in order that a remunerative modern structure of twenty stories could be erected in its place.

Mr. Rittenhouse explaained yesterday that, in spite of the circular to agents, the society had not decided yet whether it would build on the old site or sell the site and rent offices elsewhere.

Controller Gerald Brown of the society, who has charge of all the society's physical property, said yesterday that the news he had received during the day from subordinates who were trying to rescue records from the ruins was even more encouraging than he had hoped for. "Many of the records which I had thought destroyed have been found either wholly intact or partly so," said Mr. Brown.

The securities of the society, when they are recovered, will be deposited in the Carnegie Trust Company's vaults across the street from the burned building. The value of these securities is $281,396,880. Of this amount $19,000,000 is in stocks. It is contrary to the Armstrong insurance law for insurance companies to invest in stocks, but Mr. Rittenhouse explained yesterday that the $19,000,000 of these securities still owned by the Equitable were "left overs" of a time before the passage of the law, and they were being gradually disposed of. All the Equitable's securities are known to be intact, but no attempt to open the vaults will be made until it is certain that the danger of spontaneous combustion is over.

Representitive Benson of the American Institute of Architects and Engineers will appear in Part II of the Supreme Court this morning and ask the court to issue what is known as a "precept," authorizing the Building Department to proceed with the delicate operation of clearing away the debris of the burned building. This unusul procedure was decided on late yesterday afternoon after Mr. Benson had made a tour of the wrecked building.

He found that, although there were 120 laborers at work inside the building clearing away the debris, there was a strong chance, if any more weight was placed on the building's still-standing third floor, that the entire structure would collapse inward, burying the 120 laborers under it.

According to Inspector Charles Judge of the Building Department, the old-fashioned construction of the building makes it dangerous to clear. The masonry is supported by upright beams on every floor. These uprights are fitted with old-fashioned iron castings of a sort which is
not allowed at all in the construction of big modern business buildings today. These old-fashioned iron castings support steel I-beams which are under each floor by means of knees or elbows. About 45 percent of these knees or elbows supporting the I-beams are cracked or broken, Inspector Judge said. In short, there is just enough chance of the burned building tumbling down on the 120 men inside to make the Building Department want a Supreme Court authorization before going much further with work on it.

Victim's Daughter Visits Ruins

Chaplain McGean of the Fire Department went down to the burned building yesterday with nineteen-year-old Anita Nieder, the only child of Francis Joseph Nieder of 747 Melrose Avenue, the Bronx, the special custodian of the Mercantile Trust Company's vaults, who has been missing since the fire, and whose body is believed to be still in the ruins.

Miss Nieder called on Chaplain McGean at his rectory, 230 East Ninetieth Street, early yesterday, and said that she and her mother were sure that Nieder was still alive and that he would be found in some air chamber within the debris, especially in the subcellar under the vaults, where he spent most of his time when on duty. As soon as the girl saw the mass of iron, steel, masonry, wood and ice piled fifty feet high inside the walls of the burned building she put her hands to her face and began to sob in despair.

"Father must be dead," she cried hopelessly. "We have been hoping all along that he was still alive. But now I know he must be dead. All we can hope for now is that his body may be recovered and that he may have a Christian burial."

Nieder, Chaplain McGean said, left his wife and daughter in their little home in the Bronx about 5 o'clock on the morning of the fire. Reaching the Equitable about 6 o'clock, he let himself in. The fire started shortly afterward, and Mr. Giblin was summoned. When Mr. Giblin reached the burning building he and Nieder and two others entered the vaults. Nieder went to get his uniform in the sub-cellar when, presumably, the wall fell in on him.

The daughter of John Campion, another of the watchmen whose bodies are buried in the ruins, visited the burned building yesterday. Inspector Culgan of the Building Department expressed the hope yesterday that the body of Fire Chief Walsh might be recovered within the next twenty-four hours. Walsh, when last seen, was on the stairway leading to the fourth floor. His body, it is thought, is somewhere near the top of the fifty-foot pile of steel, iron, masonry, and ice which now forms a pyramid in the center of the building.

Laborers yesterday pried the frozen debris loose with picks, and then tossed it into the interior court of the building, from which it will later be carried away. The work progressed very slowwly, however. although two gangs were busy, one at the top of the pile and another at the base. A stream of hose played on the debris on the Cedar Street side of the building all yesterday, still smoldering embers being indicated by smoke and steam.

A half dozen firemen spent the day in a vain attempt to thaw out a piece of fire apparatus, surmounted by a lofty scaling ladder, which stood on the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway, and which was frozen solid in the ice. The firemen yesterday attacked the ice with steam and also with axes. But the ice seemed to form again as quickly as it was thawed away. At any rate, at nightfall the apparatus was still immovable.

Belmont Securities Removed.

All the $150,000,000 securities of August Belmont & Co. were safely removed yesterday from the wrecked offices on the Nassau Street side of the burned building to 111 Broadway, where the new headquarters of the firm are.

All tenants of 128 Broadway returned to their offices yesterday with the exception of the American Exchange Bank, the order to vacate the premises being rescinded. The bank itself will probably return to its old home in a few days.

Fire Commissioner Johnson received yesterday a check for $1,000 from Kountze Brothers for Fire Chief Walsh's family, and a check for $500 from the Fourth National Bank for the Firemen's Relief Fund.

Stockholders of the defunct Carnegie Trust Company, now in the hands of the Superintendent of Banks, may receive a windfall of $500,000 in consequence of the Equitable fire. The company's old headquarters in the United States Realty Building, 115 Broadway, are now occupied by the Equitable Trust Company under a temporary agreement. Permanent occupancy for the remainder of the lease held by the Carnegie Company may be the outcome.

Tenants Seek New Quarters.

Tenants of the burned building continued to seek quarters in the neighborhood yesterday. Phoenix Ingraham, a lawyer, opened offices at 165 broadway. Mrs. Carroll, a public stenographer in the burned building, on the other hand has been entirely unable to find accommodations anywhere and has asked THE TIMES to help her by announcing her plight. Besides not being able to find new offices, Mrs. Carroll says she lost $1,500 in furniture through the fire. Gilbert Ray Hawes, an attorney, who was burned out, has opened offices in the New York County Lawyers' Association at 164 Broadway.

On account of the destruction by fire of the Lawyers' Clubrooms in the Equitable Building, arrangements were made yesterday with the management of a restaurant on the top floor of the West Street Building, at the foot of Cedar Street, for a room in which Columbia Alumni of the club can hold their regular Monday afternoon luncheons.

Street car traffic wa resumed yesterday in front of the burned building. It will be several days however, according to the Building Department, before pedestrians will be allowed to pass in front of its walls.

No effort was made by the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company yesterday to enter their vaults. The contents of the vaults, estimated at $500,000,000, are regarded as absolutely safe.

A special matinee performance of "The Talker" will be given at the Harris Theater on Friday afternoon, Jan. 19, the entire proceeds of which will go to the widow of Chief Walsh. Tully Marshall, the leading man; Lillian Albertson, the leading woman, and the rest o the company including Malcolm Duncan, Pauline Lord, Wilson Day, Elene Foster, Isabelle Fenton, Berta Donn and Warren Munsell, have offered their services. The stage hands at the theater, the orchestra and all other attaches have also volunteered their aid without pay.


Lawyer Removed Important Will from Equitable Just in Time.

A will saved from the Equitable Building fire a few days before the disaster created a sensation yesterday when it was produced before Surrogate Cohalan. It was made by John A. Singer in 1905. A later will is now being contested on the ground of mental incapacity and undue influence. The will of 1905 is almost identical with the contested will, except that the bulk of the estate in the earlier will was given to Mrs. Adie B. Singer, the third wife of the sewing machine manufacturer. In the will made after Mrs. Singer's death, the greater part of the estate was given to Mrs. Charlotte J. Donnelly, Singer's housekeeper.

The two children of the manufacturer, who are contesting the 1911 will, are also cut off in the 1905 will. According to witnesses for the proponants of the will, Singer had said that he had paid his children $100,000 each for foregoing their rights. Surrogate Cohalan admitted the previous will as evidence. It was offered by Lawyer John B. Leavitt as showing that Singer had a fixed purpose to cut off his children, which antedated his alleged irrational acts, as testified to by witness for the contestants. Mr. Leavitt said he had withdrawn the will from the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company in the Equitable Building a few days before the fire under a premonition that something might happen to it.

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