Between 12:30 and 2:00 PM, Friday, September 11th , pieces of the facade of 139 Newark Avenue fell. The cause was likely wind and rain, although as our persistent storms this summer go, the weather on Friday seemed relatively mild. The tiles or panels crashed to the sidewalk and shattered. The storeowners and other bystanders I spoke with said that it was a slow time of the day for sidewalk traffic, made even slower by the unpleasant weather. No one was injured. Nonetheless, everyone agreed it was lucky no one was struck by the falling debris.
That portion of the South side of Newark Avenue, about half a block from the Grove Street station, was quickly closed off by the Police, I was told. Pedestrians were prohibited to walk on the sidewalk in front of the structure.
I got there about six o’clock or so. Men in a cherry picker were inspecting the exterior of the upper stories of the building. I saw them pick off chunks of material from the building which they dropped to the sidewalk. The sidewalk in front of the building was covered with shards of the shattered panels. I could not tell what the material was that shattered. It looked like glass or ceramic, but it might have been some form of fiberglass or plastic. I don’t know. There was a gaping hole where the sections of panels had come loose, and a piece of metal protruded from the newly exposed exterior.
As the men were doing their inspection, a dumpster arrived. I left the scene soon after this point. I came upon the scene by chance. I have not read anything in the paper or online about this event.
The next day a canvas tarp was tied over the portion of the facade that had come off the building. The metal gate on the front of the building was spray-painted with an X in a square, had the initials J.C.F.D. (Jersey City Fire Department) and the date 9-11-09. The front of the sidewalk was completely free of debris.
The building is right next to what is a fenced-in pit. Over a year ago, this lot contained a building that was damaged by a fire. It was uninhabited at the time and was soon demolished. Adjacent to this open lot, 139 Newark, has been empty for more than a year, according to the storeowners and others I spoke with. The inside is apparently gutted. The building has been fallow for well over a year.
On Saturday I went to the nearby fire house to ask what the Red X in the Square meant. It’s a well known symbol for fire fighters I was told. It means in case of fire, fire fighters are not to attempt putting out the fire “interiorly.” The symbol warns fire fighters not to enter the building because the structure of the building is considered unsound in the event of a fire.
I asked these men why this tag was put on the building after sections of the facade fell and not before. Why was the determination made on Friday? Did the falling facade of the building have something to do with this new designation? The men did not know. The men were not familiar with the details regarding the falling facade that occurred on Friday afternoon. They had only heard about it.
I asked them about the tarp that was now attached to the exterior. They informed me it was to catch any small pieces of debris that might come loose. Larger pieces, such as the panels that fell on Friday, would likely not be stopped by this covering. The men also said that the construction being done on Newark Avenue likely contributed to the jarring loose of the façade.
What surprised me the most was that the men then asked me, if scaffolding had been erected on the side the building. This would stop larger pieces from falling. I said there is no construction activity of any kind taking place. They then asked me, is there caution tape, is the sidewalk closed off?
Nothing like that all I said. The sidewalk is unobstructed. Pedestrians are allowed to walk in front of 139 Newark Avenue. The men shook their heads, their expressions turned grim and they had nothing more to say.