Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire memorial unveiled in Greenwich Village
Photo courtesy of Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.
The first permanent memorial honoring the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was officially unveiled in Greenwich Village on Wednesday. Designed by artists Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman and commissioned by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, the memorial is located on steel panels fixed to the exterior of 23-29 Washington Place, also known as the Asch Building, where the devastating event took place. All 146 names of the workers who perished on that fateful day are etched into the panels.
Wegman and Yoo’s design is inspired by the mourning ribbons that were traditionally draped on buildings during times of public grief. The main component of the memorial is a textured stainless steel ribbon that descends from the corner of the building on the ninth floor and splits at the top of the ground floor, continuing along both sides of the building.
The ribbon hangs 12 feet above the sidewalk and is reflected by a reflective directly below on the street level. As visitors look up and read the names etched into the ribbon, they will see the testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses reflected in the panel.
Union leaders and government officials attended Wednesday’s unveiling, including Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“It’s a stand with the working men and women of the proud State of New York, the birthplace of the workers’ rights movement because of what happened right on this block. That is something we tout to the rest of the world,” Hochul said.
“Our workers deserve to be protected and we will fight to make sure they have those rights. And as we think of the people coming here in search of the American Dream, the recently arriving migrants, I want to thank my labor team, Roberta Reardon, for working quickly to find jobs,” the governor added.
“Because this state is so great because of the immigrants, the migrants who came here. They’re part of our family. Just like those little girls who worked and toiled here making shirts for the well-to-do ladies to wear in the parks and on their Sunday outings.”
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire is one of the deadliest workplace tragedies in American history. The fire began around 4:30 p.m. on March 25, 1911, on the eighth floor of the Asch Building, which is located on the corner of Washington Place and Green Streets.
A majority of the factory workers were poor immigrant women and girls, hired by owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who specifically hired them because they would work for less pay than men and were considered less likely to unionize.
The factory floor was known for its terrible working conditions and neglectful management by Blanck and Harris, who designed the layout of all 280 sewing machines to minimize conversation between workers and maximize production. They fined workers for talking, singing, or taking too many breaks.
The fire was ignited when ash from a foreman’s cigarette landed on rags and cloth on the floor and quickly spread, fueled by grease from the sewing machines. When the workers tried to escape, they realized they were trapped behind the doors that Blanck and Harris kept locked throughout the workday. With no other way out, some workers jumped out of the building’s windows to their deaths to escape the flames.
The fire brought national attention to the widespread mistreatment of laborers and poor working conditions in factories around the country. The incident played a pivotal role in the labor movement and led to a series of reforms in New York, and eventually the rest of the country.
In 2012, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition organized an international competition aimed at creating a permanent memorial to honor the victims at the site of the tragic event. After looking at roughly 180 submissions, the Coalition went with Wegman and Yoo’s design as the winning proposal.
In 2015, New York State granted $1.5 million towards the construction of the memorial, and in January 2019, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission approved the design. Finally, in 2021, the Public Design Commission approved and commended the memorial’s design.
In July, it was announced that after more than 100 years since the incident, a permanent tribute to the Triangle Factory Fire would finally be built.