Friday, March 25, 2011

Place Matters: Landmarking the Site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Guest Post by Marci Reaven

Marci Reaven is the Director of Place Matters, a project of City Lore and the Municipal Arts Society.  She was influential in the process to designate the Brown Building a New York City Landmark in 2003.  Reaven also collaborated with NYU graduate students on the exhibit Art/Memory/Place: Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire at the Grey Art Gallery.  In this guest post, Marci discusses the resources she uses when studying and researching the Triangle fire.

One terrific source of information about the Triangle fire focuses on the building where the fire took place. It’s the report created in 2003 by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission as part of the process of designating the building a New York City landmark.

Getting to the online document takes some clicking and scrolling:
Forms & Publications, Designation Reports, Manhattan, Individual Landmarks, Brown Building.

Brown Building (originally the Asch Building)
Photo by NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

The report is particularly interesting because the writer, Gail Harris, not only discusses the events leading up to and following the fire, but also the creation of manufacturing lofts like the one occupied by the Triangle Company and their importance to the garment industry. She helps us understand why the fire “happened here.” The garment unions and the NYC Fire Department have been holding regular commemorations at the now-named Brown Building (on the corner of Washington and Greene Streets) since the 50th anniversary of the fire in 1961. Their longstanding attention to the building has made it a critical support in sustaining public memory of the fire. This prompted the Place Matters project and many historians and labor and community activists to propose it for landmark designation.

Rather surprisingly, it was the first local building designated for its association with labor history! Since landmark designation not only protects buildings but also makes them part of an official NYC history, it would be great to now get some other labor landmarks protected as well.

Posted by Marci Reaven
Director, Place Matters, a project of City Lore and the Municipal Art Society

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