Brooklyn, NY New American Theatre Collapse, Nov 1921


Three Masons, Two Steel Erectors Charged With Homicide – Seven Now Held.


System of Building Inspection Attacked Following Ninth Collapse in Year.


At Least Two, Probably More, in Ruins, Says Martin – Riegelmann Promises a Statement.

Five sub-contractors engaged in the construction of the New American Theatre, 779 – 787 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, were arrested yesterday on charges of homicide growing out of the death of at least seven persons in the collapse of the partly finished building on Tuesday.

“Used inferior material in constructing the theatre,” is the entry on the Vernon Avenue Station blotter against the five men, two of whom are accused of manslaughter in the first degrees, and three of whom are yet to be arraigned. Although Harry E. Lewis, District Attorney, declined to discuss his investigations into the causes of the disaster, the fact that three of the prisoners are masons and the other two steel erectors indicates that the inquiry has been directed at the steel and masonry construction.

The arrests yesterday bring the total number of prisoners to seven. The owners of the theatre – Silvester Rosenthal, of 1,381 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, and Samuel Moskowitz, of 599 Putnam Avenue, Brooklyn – who are also the building contractors – were arrested soon after the accident and, after being held without bail, were released in $15,000 each on a habeas corpus writ. The other prisoners are the three Cannella brothers, masons, and Charles J. Pluckheim and James Kavanaugh, steel erectors.

Seventh Body Found in Ruins.
The seventh body was taken from the ruins in the morning. It was identified as G. SMITH, a bricklayer, who lived at 1,109 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn. Firemen and employes (sic) of the Building Department were still searching the ruins late last night. “Smokey Joe” Martin, Deputy Fire Chief, said at lease two, possibly more, bodies were believed to be under the wreckage.

As a result of the collapse of nine other structures in Brooklyn since Jan. 1, the system of building inspection is one of the principal phases of the inquiry. No adverse reports on the construction of the theatre had been made by inspectors of the Brooklyn Building Bureau, who had visited the building daily. Albert Kleinert, Superintendent of Buildings, said that with the present force the inspections must be general and visual. The best safeguard, in his opinion, was to license contractors so as to prevent irresponsible persons from engaging in building operations.

The Canella brothers were called to the District Attorney’s office in the morning. According to their counsel, Joseph Giambalvo, they told Mr. Lewis they believed the collapse was caused by the improper bracing of a steel column supporting one of the main steel girders. Steel bracings, which, under the building regulations, were required to support columns of this kind, were lacking, they said.

Caused Column to Buckle, They Say.
Mr. Giambalve said the Canellas asserted that because of the lack of these braces the column buckled under the weight of the heavy cross girders and the girders, in falling, bore down with them the north wall.

The brothers – Michael, of 381 Dill Place, Glendale, L.I.; Charles, of 1,315 Herkimer Street, Brooklyn, and Vito, of 1,393 Herkimer Street – were arrested by detectives later in the afternoon.

Shortly afterward, Pluckheim of 2,083 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, and Kavanaugh of 12 Kingsland Avenue, Elmhurst, were arrested. All five were admitted to $10,000 bail for a hearing today in the Gates Avenue Court.

Rosenthal and Moskowitz, the two owners, were held without bail for examination today, when they were arraigned before Magistrate Liota on a short affidavit charging them with manslaughter in the first degree. The short affidavit, which was sworn to by Detective Robert Daley of the Vernon Avenue Station, alleged that Daley “has been informed and has reason to believe that these men were culpably negligent in furnishing material to and building the American Theatre at 777-787 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn.”

A number of building experts visited the theatre ruins but made only a general examination because of the unfinished search for more bodies. P. J. Carlin of Brooklyn was one. He declined to state for whom he was acting, but expressed the opinion that the collapse had not been caused by faulty masonry or brick work.

Lewis Bars All Visitors.
Following a second visit to the structure District Attorney Lewis ordered the police to keep every one except those searching for bodies out of the building. Two men who tried to get into the theatre later were told by a policeman that “the District Attorney has ordered that no one – not even the Borough President – is to go into the building.”
After Borough President Riegelmann had visited the scene earlier with Mr. Lewis, he said he expected to issue a statement explaining the causes of the collapse within twenty-four hours.

The search of the ruins proceeded tirelessly throughout the day and last night. Shortly before 6 o’clock last evening a steam shovel was brought to the theatre and placed in operation. Smith’s body was found in the morning under two feet of debris in what was to have been the lobby of the structure.

A work care bearing the name of James Rinaldi, plasterer, of 330 Sackman Street, Brooklyn, was found in a coat in the debris. The name had not appeared on the lists of killed, injured or missing, and an investigation was started to determine whether he was a victim.

A young man who said his name was McNeil told searchers that his father, a bricklayer, who was at work on the building, had not returned home.

Another workman, William Gartland of 188 Schaeffer Street, Brooklyn, who had been reported as missing Tuesday night, was reported safe yesterday.

Philip Healey, an iron worker, is the only one of the twenty injured who was reported last night as in a critical condition. He is in the Williamsburg Hospital with a fractured skull.

The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Dec 1921