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Widower of New York architect Erica Tishman killed by falling masonry sues for negligence

The husband of a New York architect who was killed by falling masonry in midtown Manhattan has filed a lawsuit against the city and the building’s owners.  

Erica Tishman, 60, was killed by the damaged brickwork at 729 Seventh Avenue on December 17.

On Monday Steven Tishman alleged in Manhattan Supreme Court that the owners of the building and the city knew of the risk eight months prior to the incident, but did nothing to fix it.

As a result of the negligence by the owners and the city, ‘the defendants robbed Erica Tishman of her life, they robbed Steven Tishman of his wife, they robbed three children of their mother and a grandchild of his grandmother,’ the court papers allege. 

Tishman was declared dead at the scene.   

The owners of the 17-story building, constructed in 1915, were cited in October 2018 for ‘a failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances’. 

In their October inspection, city building inspectors wrote that there was ‘damaged terra cotta at areas above the 15th floor in several locations which posed a falling hazard for pedestrians’. 

Yet despite the warnings, no sidewalk sheds were erected to protect pedestrians, despite the recommendations. 

In April, the property owners were fined $1,250. 

On July 18, the owners, 729 Acquisition LLC, renewed a construction permit for ‘masonry repair and parapet replacement at penthouse and main roof level,’ according to records seen by the New York Post.  

As recently as November the building’s management told the city how it planned to install scaffolding up to 150 feet tall for the repairs. 

Nothing appeared to have been done until immediately after Tishman’s death, when scaffolding was finally being installed.

One of the workers described the building as ‘ugly’ and told the New York Post: ‘It’s pretty bad. They had to wait ’til someone died.’ 

The Department of Buildings ranked it a ‘class 1’ violation, which required that the infraction ‘must be corrected immediately.’  

Tishman’s lawyer Benedict Morelli said, ‘There is a disturbing trend in our city where building owners are not held accountable for safety violations.

‘Owners receive minuscule fines that they are able to pay off as a way to avoid making actual repairs. This practice is an open secret in the New York real estate community. We need a better system that puts safety first.’

Morelli said the building’s owners must pay for their negligence. 

‘The building owners have done everything possible to avoid taking responsibility,’ he said. 

‘I promise you, I’m going to make them pay. They can’t hide from this.’ 

The building’s owner, Himmel + Meringoff, own 12 commercial buildings in Manhattan, most of them in Midtown.  

‘Today’s lawsuit is not unexpected. The loss of Erica Tishman is a profound tragedy,’ a spokesman for the owners said, in a statement to the New York Post. 

‘We have been working diligently with the New York City Department of Buildings since the incident to obtain the necessary plans and approvals required to perform the facade repairs.’

The owners are about to begin work to remove the decorative terra cotta — a plan which has been approved by the city, the rep said.

The spokesman also said that at the September 2019 hearing with the city, the judge in that case decided that the building facade didn’t require immediate repairs and downgraded the violation. 

And the owners had been in protracted negotiations with a neighboring building, which they needed access to, to begin the work leading up to the accident, the rep claimed.  

The building is in one of the busiest part of Manhattan located just feet away from Times Square. 

The M&M store which is always bustling with tourists is just steps away, meaning that if and when any kind of brickwork were to fall to the ground, there was always a strong likelihood that someone would be hit.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time that the city would conduct an investigation into the incident.

‘It’s a horrible incident,’ he said. ‘My heart goes out to the family. There’s obviously a full investigation going on.

‘We need to know how that happened and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ 

The Department of Buildings said at the time that it must not be allowed to happen again.

‘This is a tragedy, and the family and friends of the victim are in our thoughts,’ they said, in a statement. 

‘No pedestrian should be at risk from dangerous façade conditions.’ 

The first floor of the building is a commercial space that includes a clothing store and a large souvenir shop catering to tourists. 

In 2018 the building owners secured a $60 million refinancing of the mixed-use office property from Signature Bank.

Tishman’s office was just a few blocks away from where she was struck and killed. 

The mother-of-three received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1981, and a master’s degree in architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, according to her LinkedIn profile.   

Her grandfather, the late Abraham M. Lindenbaum, was president of the Brooklyn Law School. 

She had been a licensed architect since 1985, and was a member of the American Institute of Architects. 

She married Steven Howard Tishman in 1982, in a ceremony at the Plaza Hotel, according to a wedding announcement in the New York Times. 

Her husband was described as ‘financial analyst with the Zayre Corporation, a self-service department-store chain with headquarters in Framingham’.

The couple had three children, now adults: Adam, Stuart, and Julia.    

According to her profile on temple’s site, Tishman is a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Real Estate Committee for the Educational Alliance, a social service agency located in lower Manhattan that serves 50,000 New Yorkers annually.  

Tishman also served as a board of trustees member, and chair of facilities for Riverdale Country School for 12 years. She was also chair for the Alumni Schools Committee for Princeton University.  

After the tragedy, Senator Brad Hoylman wrote on Facebook: ‘Eight months ago, a building in the heart of my district and near many Broadway theaters was issued a violation for ‘failure to maintain building wall(s) or appurtenances. 

‘Today a woman walking past it lost her life when debris fell and hit her. I’m urging the city to look at this case very closely. 

‘If there was any wrongdoing involved, the full weight of the law must be directed at the responsible parties.’ 

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