It’s not exactly a selling point: Forty-seven years ago, a plane slammed into the heart of Seventh Avenue, killing 135 people and destroying two buildings at the corner of Sterling Place.
On Sunday, one of the buildings to fill the long-empty crash site had its open house. You can imagine why the broker didn’t want anyone mentioning plane crashes.
“Why would you want to remind people about that?” asked Sandy Biano, the sales agent for the Vermeil (the name is a jeweler’s term for gold on sterling — get it?), a 22-unit condo.
Why remind people? The simple answer is because the story of the long-forgotten crash is not only one of death and destruction, but also of bravery and the restoration of a damaged neighborhood. Whether Biano likes it or not, the new condos are part of that story.
On the morning of Dec. 16, 1960, a United Airlines DC-8, carrying 130 passengers, hit another plane over Staten Island almost nine miles from Park Slope. United flight 826 collided with TWA flight 266 — whose 44 passengers died when their plane plummeted onto Staten Island.
The crippled United jet flew on, buzzing low over Sterling Place at 200 mph. The plane veered and missed the St. Augustine’s Academy — where more than 100 students were studying — but its right wing clipped a brownstone at 126 Sterling Pl. The impact of the wing changed the plane’s trajectory and the fuselage smashed into, ironically, the Pillar of Fire church at 123 Sterling Pl. It next cleaved a brownstone before the wreckage skidded into McCaddin’s Funeral Home — where The Vermeil now stands.
All the passengers and crew died. The crash also killed at least five people on the ground, including Wallace E. Lewis, an elderly Pillar of Fire caretaker, who was inside the church when it was consumed in the blaze.
Joseph Colacano and John Opperisano were hawking Christmas trees. Charles J. Cooper, a city sanitation worker, was shoveling snow. Dr. Jacob Crooks was out walking his dog. They were also killed.
Miraculously, all the people in the damaged homes escaped with their lives. Henry and Pauline McCaddin, the owners of the funeral home, were having coffee in their apartment above their business. Their neighbor, Robert Carter, pulled the McCaddins from the rubble.
Today, the corner of Sterling and Seventh is exactly as Biano would have her buyers see it — vibrant, thriving and affluent. But it didn’t get that way overnight and who knows what it might be like if the crash had happened three blocks over on Berkeley Place.
The debris has been cleared, the damaged homes have been repaired, and the neighborhood has long since recovered. But that’s no reason to forget history. Better we remember it and marvel at what can happen when a neighborhood pulls together in response to a disaster.
Adam F. Hutton is a staff reporter at The Brooklyn Paper who lives in Park Slope.
Separated identical twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein had the party for their scintillating book, “Identical Strangers,” at Le Gamin on Vanderbilt Avenue on Tuesday night (their birthday!) and, befitting a French bistro, tout le monde was there. Toasting the memorists were our pals Nica Lalli, Louise “Smartmom” Crawford, the librarian from PS 107 and our photographer Julie Rosenberg. …
Fans of Key Food on Seventh Avenue (and who isn’t a Key Food fan?) were pleased at the new bright green paint job on the garish faÃ§ade of the building. While the green does little to mask the thick metal front, at least it blends in better than the old bright orange paint did. …
Our pals at Brooklyn Frame Works, which is on Fifth Avenue between Douglass and Baltic streets, are celebrating its 10th anniversary with a show called “Outer Space,” that will be unveiled on Oct. 19 at 7 pm. There’ll be astronomical prints, sci-fi movie posters and paperbacks on sale. Cops at the 78th Precinct are scary on perps and they’re gearing up to scare your kids at their annual haunted house. Check it out at the Sixth Avenue stationhouse on Friday, Oct. 26 from 6–10 pm and on Saturday, Oct. 27 from noon–4 pm and again from 6–10 pm. …
You gotta hand it to Luis Solidespa, who has been sweeping up Flatbush Avenue in the Slope for 12 years with the North Flatbush BID. How about the next time you see Luis, you thank him for his seven-day-a-week service, huh? …
How about that Samantha Slavin? The 17-year-old Bishop Ford HS student had a story published in the new book, “Brooklyn Underground.” Her teacher at Bishop Ford said Samantha hopes to major in journalism at college. Good luck with that, Sam!
©2007 Community News Group
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