This year marks the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the most lethal industrial disasters in the United States. To the shock and delight of labor activists and descendants of workers who died in the fire, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that the state would provide a $1.5 million grant to Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition (RTFC) to build a memorial at 29 Washington Place, the site of the former factory.
Gathering at the 100th anniversary of the fire (Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition / Wikipedia)
The grant, culled from state economic development funds, will cover the full cost of construction, the New York Times reports.
The building that housed the factory still stands. Now owned by New York University (NYU), it houses some of NYU’s biology and chemistry labs. Due to its significant place in labor history and the women’s rights movement, the structure is a New York City and a National Historic Landmark.
In 2013, New York-based architects Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman won the memorial design competition sponsored by RTFC. Yoo has his own firm, Half & Half Architecture, while Wegman practices at Matthew Baird. Their design,“Reframing the Sky,” is sensitive to the historic architecture while bringing visibility to labor issues, past and present.
The names of 146 victims will be inscribed on steel panels 13 feet above the sidewalk. At about knee height, a mirrored steel panel will reflect the etched names above before shooting up the side of the building to the eighth floor, where the fire originated. The lower panel will also feature a description of the blaze and its aftermath.The fire on March 25th, 1911 at the factory killed 146 people, mostly Italian and Eastern European Jewish women (Courtesy Kheel Center, Cornell University)
The insufficient fire safety and emergency exit measures the disaster exposed strengthened the organizing of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) and prompted building code and fire prevention reforms nationwide.
Mary Anne Trasciatti, president of RTFC, stated that the organization will raise an additional $1 million to maintain the memorial. The money will also fund scholarships for the children of present-day garment workers and students pursuing labor history.