The Equitable Assurance Building Is Destroyed By Fire 100 Years Ago Today
David Dunlap’s excellent story in The New York Times about the Equitable Assurance Building fire is merely a reminder about how great disasters are eventually forgotten over time. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 took 146 lives and was remembered in various ceremonies on its 100th anniversary.
No such commemorations will be held this year for the Equitable fire which killed six people, including Battalion Chief William Walsh.
The fire took place on a brutally cold day and the water froze quickly and left macabre ruins resembling an ice palace.
Many of the photographs from The Times story were taken from a commemorative booklet entitled The Equitable Building Destroyed By Fire January 9, 1912 that was issued within weeks after the fire. I own a copy of this twenty page booklet and reading it you get a full sense of what a difficult blaze this was to battle.
A direct consequence of this fire was that the new Equitable Building which was built in its place, resulted in zoning law reformation in New York City. On just under an acre of land, Equitable built from 1913-1915, a 41 story skyscraper building with 1.2 million square feet of floor /office area with no setbacks. The public outrage to this exploitation of land use lead in 1916 to New York City instituting a comprehensive zoning resolution which made sure that light would reach the streets and buildings of this size could not be built without setbacks.
It seems today that builders build monstrously tall glass monoliths right on top of one another creating a pattern of lookalike structures with no distinct identity. I’ll take the Equitable building over these dull glass behemoths anytime.