Brooklyn, NY New American Theatre Collapse, Nov 1921
Orders Roundup of Workmen.
The District Attorney took but one look at the crumbled ruins; he saw the body of a workman being removed; and he ordered the police Captain in charge to immediately round up every one connected with the construction work. He also ordered every one except firemen and volunteer rescuers out of the ruins.
“Everything must be kept as intact as possible” he said, “until our building experts arrive and photographs can be made. Let no one interfere here except those with the proper authority. I am going to my office to examining witnesses.”
Edward Riegelmann, Borough President, who was with him, said the District Attorney had “absolute supervision and we will follow him. We will have men put up some shoring in a little while under the supervision of the Fire Departments.”
President Riegelmann also directed Albert F. Kleinert, Superintendent of Buildings, to send all available inspectors and other experts to the scene. They began an investigation under Chief Inspector John Schnackenberg.
The police immediately began a roundup of all the workmen and sub-contractors and placed them in detention in a small wooden office shack in the street in front of the building. Among the first to be taken in charge were Moskowitz, 29 years ole, of 599 Putnam Avenue, and Rosenthal, 47, of 1,381 Pacific Street. Meyer Schenckman of 439 Sackman Street, the concrete contractor, whose partner Philip Stein, was killed, and Julius Jacobs of 212 State Street, Brooklyn, the electrical contractor were also detained.
District Attorney Lewis then gave orders that the witnesses be taken immediately to his offices in 66 Court Street for examination. There were more than a score of them. A patrol wagon was called and they were removed to the District Attorney’s quarters under guard of several detectives. Instructions were given that they should not be permitted to talk to newspaper men or any other persons about the accident until they had been examined.
Assistant District Attorney Ralph Hemstreet, Benjamin Hock and Everett T. Caldwell too personal charge of the examination, while Mr. Wilson remained at the theatre searching for evidence.
Before being taken to the District Attorney’s office Mockowitz was questioned by Assistant District Attorney Wilson, but said he was unable to account for the disaster. The building specifications, he said, had been approved by the City Department of Buildings. The walls and roof had been finished and brown plaster was being put on the ceiling when the accident occurred. Excellent materials and union labor were being used, he said, and bonuses were paid in some cases for high grade work. The cost of the theatre was to have been $750,000. It was designed to seat 1,800 persons and to have opened about Feb. 15.
“All the work already finished had been approved by the Building Department,” he said. “The inspectors had been very active but had not suggested any changes.”
Riegelmann Confirms Statement.
Borough President Riegelmann said he understood the building had been inspected regularly and approved by the inspectors.
According to information obtained at the Brooklyn Building Department, the plans were approved on Aug. 2, 1921, Rosenthal & Moskowitz of 20 State Street, Manhattan, listed as the owners, and C. A. Sandblom of 19 West Forty-fifth Street, Manhattan, as the architect.
“I haven’t the slightest idea as to what caused the accident,” Moskowitz told a reporter for THE NEW YORK TIMES as he was waiting to be examined by the District Attorney. “Our building had been inspected almost every day by the City Building Department. I believe the inspector’s name was Nesbit or something like that.
“I was at lunch when the accident happened and do not know how it occurred or how many men were in the building. Before leaving the building I saw nothing that would indicate that such a disaster was to occur.
“Every requirement of the law was lived up to in constructing the walls and the interior. There was no criminal negligence on our part. If any one is to be blamed for this accident it will have to be the city, which has been inspecting the building and has the power to enforce all laws.”
Mr. Rosenthal also said the building had been carefully inspected by the city and that three had been no criminal negligence on the part of the contractors.