Brooklyn, NY New American Theatre Collapse, Nov 1921


First Degree Manslaughter Charged to Owners and Constructors of Brooklyn Building.


Four Inquiries Under Way – Lewis to Prosecute – Says Slipshod Practices Must Cease.


Believed to Be Buried in Tangled mass of Steel and Cement – Contractors Blame Inspectors.

Buries in an avalanche of massive steel girders, chunks of brickwork and lumber, at least six men lost their lives and twenty others were injured in the collapse yesterday of the New American Theatre, in course of construction at 779-787 Bedford Avenue, near Park Avenue, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

With the laborious task of rescue still in progress at midnight under the glare of twenty searchlights, the bodies of six workmen, all identified were lying in the Kings County Morgue. Four others were believed to be in the ruins, where firemen, policemen and workmen from the Building Bureau in Brooklyn were digging. Twenty of the workmen in the building escaped injury.

Sylvester Rosenthal of 1,381 Pacific Street and Samnuel Moskowitz of 599 Putnam Avenue, both of Brookly, owners of the building an general contractors, were locked up last night on a charge of manslaughter in the first degree, following an investigation by District Attorney Harry E. Lewis into the causes of the collapse. Me. Lewis refused details of the testimony at the inquiry and declined to comment on reports that the accident was due to faulty construction.

Working under Rosenthal and Moskowitz were seven or eight sub-contractors, and detectives were searching for some of them late last night. Other arrests are expected to follow an inspection of the ruins today by building experts.

The fall of the structure occurred at about 12:30, while forty-eight men were at work. Four steel girders, each of them weighing many tons, suddenly slipped from brick columns supporting them, causing one of the brick walls, forty feet in height, to give way and bearing down a network of connecting girders and the buckling brick wall upon the workmen beneath.

Owners Held Without Bail.
The arrest of Moskowitz and Rosenthal followed a preliminary investigation by District Attorney Harry Lewis and a staff of assistants. They were booked at the Vernon Avenue Police Station on charges of manslaughter in the first degree, upon recommendation of District Attorney Lewis, and later removed to the Gated Avenue Station.

Both men were held without bail and will be arraigned in the Gates Avenue Court today.
“We expect to make some other arrests tomorrow,” said Mr. Lewis, who said his department would make every effort to punish all persons responsible for the disaster.
“There has been too much of this slipshod building in this vicinity,” he added. “we are going the limit to establish the responsibility in the matter. Nothing will be left undone to find the guilty party and give him the limit prescribed by low.

“We are placing against these owners a charge of manslaughter based upon criminal negligence and punishable by prison terms ranging from ten to twenty years. If they are guilty we hope to give them the limit.”

District Attorney Lewis said he had a theory of his own as to the cause of the accident, but would not divulge it until building experts had investigated and made their reports. He sent several assistants to the wrecked theatre last night to make further investigations.

Wind and Rain Theory Scouted.
“If my theory is correct the wind and rain had nothing to do with the collapse.” said Mr. Lewis. “And if my theory is correct some one is going away for a long time.

“This is a terrible accident and it surely aroused me when I arrived at that building today and found them carrying out the bodies of those dead workmen. This is a crime that this office cannot overlook. We cannot afford to use loose methods. My men are examining about thirty witnesses and this testimony will not be made public until we have completed our case. We are up against an unusual proposition.”

Asked about rumors that the walls of the building were not sufficient strength to support the superstructure and that a poor quality of cement had been used, District Attorney Lewis declined to comment.

“That is a matter for this investigation to determine,” he said. “I am not prepared to make any further statements as to what evidence we have at this time.”

Shortly after 7 o’clock last night the District Attorney dismissed the newspapermen, saying nothing further would be made public by hum until today.

The investigation by the District Attorney’s office was begun by Reuben Wilson, assistant in charge of the homicide bureau, while the first of the dead and injured were being carried from the demolished theatre. A few minutes later Mr. Lewis took personal charges.