Work on the Triangle Fire Memorial, commemorating the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village on March 25, 1911, is wrapping up. The blaze took the lives of 146 factory workers. In the aftermath of that tragedy, legislation emerged to require buildings requirements and improved working conditions for factory workers. Since 2013 Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, an organization dedicated to educating the public about the fire, has been working to realize a memorial on the facade of the building that honors the memory of those who perished in the blaze, many of whom were women. The Coalition plans to unveil the memorial this fall.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building, on Washington Place. Today the structure is NYU’s Brown Building. When the flames erupted, many workers were trapped on the floor unable to escape because exits and staircases were kept locked to prevent theft and workers from taking unauthorized breaks. This led many factory workers to jump from the building’s windows.
In the years following the fire, a Factory Investigating Commission was formed to investigate the conditions of factory buildings across the country. This led to the reform of labor laws in the State of New York and elsewhere. The activity strengthened the organizing of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and led to legislation that improved building access and egress; implemented fireproofing standards; and required the installation of fire extinguishers, alarm systems, and sprinklers, in addition to posing limits on the number of hours women and children were allowed to work.
The idea to dedicate a memorial on the site gained momentum in 2011, just before the 100th anniversary of the fire when several community groups met with the Coalition. Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition launched a design competition, and in 2013 the design from New York–based architects Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman was announced as the winning proposal. Charles Lauster Architect is serving as architect of record, and fabrication and installation is by KC Fabrications.
The firm’s design proposes a stainless steel ribbon that will run up the corner of the building from the 9th floor down to the ground floor. 12 feet above street level, the names of the 146 victims will be etched into a portion of the steel ribbon and can be read by passersby through a reflective panel near the ground.
Given the landmark status of the building, the memorial had to be approved by the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC). It gained approval from the LPC in 2019. New York’s Public Design Commission approved the memorial in 2021. In 2015, the project received a $1.5 million grant from then-governor Andrew Cuomo.
Construction progress on the memorial was interrupted by the pandemic. Additionally, a series of tests on the building during this time found structural issues with the building, indicating it may be unable to withstand the weight of the steel memorial. This finding increased the cost of construction to $2.4 million.
A separate memorial for the Ladies Waist and Dress Makers Union Local No 25 is located at the Mount Zion Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens.
Each year the Coalition hosts a remembrance ceremony at the building. This year’s event commemorating the 112th anniversary of the fire will take place on March 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Coalition is still fundraising for the memorial. Donations can be made here.