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Building Collapses on West 123rd Street in Harlem

By  Jeff Mays Ben Fractenberg Julie  Shapiro and Mary Johnson | May 4, 2012 5:03pm | Updated on May 4, 2012 7:54pm

Firefighters searched through the rubble at 110 W. 123rd St. May 4, 2012.
Firefighters searched through the rubble at 110 W. 123rd St. May 4, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

HARLEM — A five-story apartment building under renovation on West 123rd Street collapsed Friday afternoon, police, fire and Buildings officials said.

The 45-foot-tall townhouse at 110 W. 123rd St., near Lenox Avenue, pancaked straight to the ground about 4:23 p.m., FDNY Deputy Chief Robert Sweeney said. Some of the debris landed in a neighboring community garden, the FDNY said.

There were no injuries immediately reported, fire officials said. While an initial report on the DOB website said people may have been trapped inside the building, an FDNY spokesman on the scene said he believed the building was unoccupied.

Contractors who were working on the building left at noon, Sweeney said. Firefighters combed through the rubble with dogs and detection equipment Friday evening just in case but did not find anyone, Sweeney said.

Rubble from the collapse of 110 W. 123rd St. May 4, 2012.
Rubble from the collapse of 110 W. 123rd St. May 4, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

"All searches have come back negative," Sweeney said. "No one is reported missing."

Denise Rivera, who lives next to the flattened building, said she heard a loud noise, then saw the collapse.

"The whole thing just came down," Rivera said. "There was a crash, a big cloud of smoke. It was so thick you couldn’t see anything." 

The building was being gutted as part of a renovation, but it was empty Friday afternoon, Rivera said.

Jay Harper, who lives nearby, recently spotted structural problems in the building's foundation and facade, he said on his blog.

Chozen Weekes, 9, was across the street with his father Friday afternoon when they heard the sharp crack of the building collapsing.

"I was scared," Chozen said. "I was afraid of the building coming out on me."

Chozen's father, Shane Weekes, 33, said it was lucky no one got hurt. Just one day earlier, Chozen was in the community garden next to the fallen building, which is now covered in debris, Weekes said.

Syderia Asberry Chresfield, president of Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, who also lives next to the brownstone, said she noticed bricks falling off the building Friday morning, then heard the collapse in the afternoon.

“It sounded like something exploding," Chresfield said. "You can’t describe a noise like that."

Chresfield said she saw workers removing old radiators and fireplaces from the building on Thursday.

Back in February, the Department of Buildings approved a construction permit to "structurally reinforce" the building.

According to DOB records, a three-alarm fire broke out at the location back in 1995, damaging the "structural stability" of the building.

The building was just sold to a new owner, 110 West 123rd Street Realty Associates, in November 2011, according to city property records.

High Power Construction Corp., the contractor on the project, and Alexander Fishbeyn, a representative of the building's new owner, did not immediately return calls for comment Friday afternoon.

Laurent Delly, a vice-president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association and a real estate broker in the area, said he was sad to see the community lose a building that he and a DOB spokesman both believed was more than 100 years old.

The building was not part of the Mount Morris Park Historic District, but that block of West 123rd Street was slated to be included in an expansion of the historic district, Delly said.

"The building, structurally, had some issues," Delly said. "It was not stable and local residents knew it was not stable."