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Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial Commemoration Set For Wednesday

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Organizers of an elaborate memorial to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire are facing opposition from the community, just as they got the $1.5 million they need to construct it.

The installation on the corner of the New York University building at Washington Place and Greene Street is meant to memorialize the 146 victims who perished in the blaze on March 25, 105 years ago.

The design features a massive steel panel affixed to the corner of the building, extending to the 8th floor, where the fire began. 

It also features a hip-high steel fixture, jutting out from the building about 18 inches, with the names of the victims etched into it.

Though the memorial has been in the works for years, neighbors apparently grew alarmed after Gov. Andrew Cuomo earmarked $1.5 million to build it.

District Leader and Community Board 2 member Terri Cude organized a town hall last month to give the neighbors a chance to speak their minds, and the organizers of the memorial — a group called Remember the Fire Coalition — and the memorial's designers attended.

Village Residents Want Say in Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial Design

The designers won a contest a couple of years ago, judged by various architecture and history experts, coalition spokesman Joel Sosinsky said. The neighbors now feel a community member should have been on the panel as well.

Sosinsky said neighbors "have genuine concerns" and that the designers are taking them into consideration to figure out "how we can best address them."

"All of the people who are really most vocal in opposition to this are people who lived there for years and years and years," he said. "I grew up in the city. I’ve seen the city evolve over years, and there are lots of changes that you look at and say, 'Oh my God, when did that happen?'"

Cude said that the town hall opened with comments from Michael Hirsch, an amateur historian who is credited with identifying six previously unnamed victims of the fire.

He opposes the memorial design, Cude said, because he was not consulted on it, and because he feels it is garish, "self-serving" and "piece of art" rather than a memorial.

Other neighbors agreed with Hirsch that the building alone was a better memorial, and also felt that chrome and reflective metal do not fit in with the historic neighborhood and could potentially make neighbors' homes hotter or too bright.

A local neighborhood poll was conducted and three alternatives were suggested, Cude said: using the funds to repair or replace the cobblestones on Greene Street, creative a scholarship to NYU in memory of the victims, and installing a memorial plaque with the victims' names on the building.

The Coalition and the memorial designers will have to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission to get the design approved. Sosinsky said they are still working on their presentation.

After they put in their application with the LPC, they'll have to go before Community Board 2's landmarks committee at a public meeting where the neighbors can express their opinions. Cude said she also hopes to plan another meeting for the public before that.

"The community, they live with it every day," she said. "Most of the people come [to the memorial] once a year. The community needs to be carefully listened to."

The memorial event on Wednesday is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, on the east side of Washington Square Park. New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, several labor groups, representatives of the FDNY and public school students are expected to be in attendance.

The ceremony will feature "musical tributes, reflections by family members of victims [and] testimony from workers who are still fighting for their rights," according to an email blast by the AFL-CIO. There will also be the annual reading of the names of all of the victims, and a tribute from the FDNY, the email said.

The AFL-CIO said this year's event is "especially significant" due to Cuomo's $1.5 million grant.

Sosinsky said the Coalition still needs to raise more money, however, because of an agreement with New York University — the owner of the building — that the coalition will establish an endowment to pay for the maintenance of the memorial.

He estimates that will cost $1 million.