NEW YORK — The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday designated the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire an official city landmark in a ceremony attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This story first appeared in the March 26, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The fire took place 92 years ago on several upper floors of the Brown Building, currently owned and used by New York University, which sits on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in Greenwich Village. At the time of the fire, the structure was known as the Asch building.
Since they were locked inside and unable to access fire exits, 146 garment workers lost their lives in less than 15 minutes by leaping from the windows, suffocating from smoke inhalation or from catching on fire. They were mostly young women in their teens and early 20s. The disaster led to the establishment of the Bureau of Fire Investigation, which gave the fire department additional powers to improve factory safety. It also helped gain support for the labor movement, and the UNITE predecessor, International Ladies Garment Workers Union, in particular.
Mayor Bloomberg said the Triangle fire was one of the most horrific and preventable tragedies in the city’s and country’s history. He called the fire a reminder of how important safety laws are for the protection of workers and the general public, and cited the recent nightclub fires in Chicago and Providence, R.I., as examples of how unenforced laws can end in grave situations.
“It also serves to remind us that with great tragedy there is great progress,” Bloomberg said, referring to the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center. “This tribute salutes our city’s determination to be stronger, better and more humane than before.”
Following his speech, the Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney unveiled the plaque alongside the mayor, NYU vice president for university relations Lynne Brown, UNITE president Bruce Raynor and other officials. The plaque, which is engraved with a short history of the fire, will be placed on the Brown Building near a separate plaque awarded 10 years ago by National Park Service declaring the site a National Historic Landmark.
Attendees at the memorial included former New York mayor David Dinkins, UNITE members and various city and state officials.