The citys Engineering Office is so worried about the bricks and pieces falling from the nearly century-old Masonic Temple that it has banned the public from going inside the deteriorating landmark.
But the Washington Street building where the Order of the Masons met for decades made headlines when two workers were killed and two others were severely injured during its construction in 1914. A cornice on the building collapsed, fell on some scaffolding the men were on, throwing them to the ground and burying them under 30 tons of debris.
Neither City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk nor Shawn R. McWayne, the citys code enforcement supervisor, ever heard about the story until last week. Just two weeks before, Mr. Hauk decided to condemn the Masonic Temple, meaning only the new owner and his contractors may go inside until repairs are made to prevent additional pieces of the exterior from falling.
Here we are all of these years later, Mr. Hauk said. Its kind of surreal when you think about it.
The four men fell about 60 feet, with the two injured workers ending up in the buildings cellar, according to the Oct. 6, 1914, story in the Watertown Daily Times on the day it happened. A barricade was quickly placed around the building to prevent the public from getting hurt.
Other workers said they did not know why the cornice gave way.
It simply came without an indication of any kind to warn them of the danger, the Times reported that day.
But the accident caused immediate calls for the city to establish a rigid building code because the project lacked approvals to ensure safety, follow-up stories in the Times reported. A building codes office was subsequently formed.
Mr. McWayne pointed out work crews did not have the same construction equipment, such as steel-fabricated scaffolding, cranes and heavy equipment, that are available today. He also expressed interest in hearing more about how the code enforcement office originally was established.
I have material that goes back to the 1940s and 1950s, but this is the first Ive heard about this, he said about the accident.
Two weeks ago, Garrett L. McCarthy, a Henderson artist who purchased the building last year, was ordered by Mr. Hauk to submit an evaluation to the citys engineering and code enforcement offices on how he plans to prevent falling material.
Every so often, a brick comes tumbling to the ground. For instance, a 20-foot-wide veneer face fell from the buildings front this summer, causing the code enforcement office to request the plans.
Mr. McCarthy, who hopes to convert the vacant building into an educational and performing arts center, said hes moving forward with the exterior work.
He has Scott Lupini, who owns a Utica masonry construction company, involved in repairing the exterior. The company restored the horticulture building at the New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse, and a historic building at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Hes the right man for the job, said Mr. McCarthy, who has also retained the Syracuse engineering firm of Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt to evaluate how to correct the problems.
The consultants have identified the cause of some of the problems, Mr. McCarthy said. During repair jobs during the 1950s and 1960s, the wrong types of brick mortar and other material were used, causing the existing exterior problems, he said.
We want to make sure we get it right, he said.