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A Towering Inferno Waiting To Happen

New York City’s most infamous non-union money pit doesn’t just lean. It’s also a deadly fire hazard.


The saga of the notorious, non-union-built building at 161 Maiden Lane, dubbed the "Leaning Tower of Lower Pizzarotti," recently took an alarming turn. The New York Fire Department (FDNY) found during a routine inspection that the building's fire suppression system— a standpipe that would deliver water to upper floors— was non-operational. To make matters worse, there were no guards or firewatch personnel present on-site.


Once envisaged as a 58-story luxury condo offering stunning views of New York Harbor, construction had to be halted at 161 Maiden Lane when the building started leaning north, the result of non-union corner-cutting on the foundation and concrete work.  Today, the unfinished building, with its incomplete glass-wall exterior, has numerous safety concerns yet to be addressed, and stands as a glaring example of what can go wrong when non-union contractors compromise on safety and quality to save a buck.


The malfunctioning standpipe, uncovered last summer but only recently made public, is a major safety threat. If a fire broke out on a higher floor, controlling the blaze would be near impossible. Richard Cohn, the court-appointed overseer of the building during ongoing tilt related lawsuits, confirmed that a homeless person accidentally damaged the standpipe, rendering it non-operational for over a year.

The unfinished building has numerous safety concerns yet to be addressed, and stands as a glaring example of what can go wrong when non-union contractors compromise on safety and quality to save a buck.

The 2007 Deutsche Bank tower fire tragedy provides a stark illustration of the crucial role of a functioning standpipe. In this in incident, which occurred just blocks from 161 Maiden Lane, a faulty standpipe resulted in a catastrophic fire, leading to the death of two firefighters and injuring many more. By leaving One Seaport with a broken standpipe for months on end, Fortis Property Group was recklessly courting a similar tragedy.


These unsettling revelations led the FDNY to declare One Seaport a fire hazard on July 8, 2022, urging an immediate Department of Buildings (DOB) inspection. The inspection confirmed that the building’s standpipe was completely "zeroed out", with no pressure to deliver water to upper floors, and that the site was unguarded and open to the public.


Just blocks from the Pizzarotti building, a fire in the Deutsche Bank tower took the lives of two New York City firefighters in 2007. The cause of the fire was attributed to a faulty standpipe.


Also just blocks from the waterfront, in 1911 the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took the lives of 146 garment workers. It was a motivational moment for the establishment of worker unions in the city and the country.

The DOB promptly slapped a Class 1 hazardous code violation on the building for the malfunctioning standpipe, with a $25,000 fine. They also imposed a $2,500 penalty for the lack of fire-watch personnel. But to date, only the latter has been paid; the standpipe fine remains unresolved. 


The standpipe was repaired in September 2022 and DOB inspectors confirmed the fire-watch staff were back on duty. While Cohn announced, "The situation has been resolved," DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky underlined the owners' responsibility to uphold safety standards, adding that DOB would continue regular checks at 161 Maiden Lane for compliance. 


The dangerous non-union negligence on display at the Leaning Tower of Pizzarotti is one more reason to ask your realtor: who built this building?


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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