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October 13, 2007 / Park Slope / Perspective / PS … I Love You

7th Av crash site is reborn

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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.

The Kitchen Sink

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 façade 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!

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Reader Feedback

John Frank says:
The plane barely missed St. Francis grade school too, I was in class there the day it happened and remember being sent home. I lived on President Street between Fifth and Sixth and could see the flames over the rooftops across the street...I still have dreams about that plane flying over the school that day...

Oct. 12, 2007, 6:40 pm
BURT KOLKER from PARK SLOPE says:
On December 16,1960 I walked up Carrol St from Typhoon AirConditioning Co. to the bank at the corner of 7th Ave. I was probably in the bank no more than 5 minutes and when I emerged there was all kinds of commotion with people running (towards Sterling Pl).I too headed that way. I looked ahead of me to a sight that I will never forget- the tail section of the plane visable on the 7th Ave intersection. When I arrived closer to the site I expected to see the rest of the plane relatively intact on Sterling Place, but all I saw was debris and a piece of a wing sticking out of one of the buildings.There was also a crown of peoplegathered around what turned out to be a young child who was a passenger that lived thru the crash but didnt survive. I left Brooklyn in 1967 but there is something about "taking the boy out of Brooklyn but now Brooklyn out of the boy". I visit family,friends and places back "home" often. It was during my latest trip in April that my sister-in-law Beth gave me a copy of your article that she had saved for me. I am going to visit the "site" on the way to the Aiport for my return to my second home Atlanta. Thanks for putting a "positive spin" on these memories. Burt Kolker
April 8, 2008, 3:10 pm
Linda from park slope says:
I was a student at St Augustine school
also lived two blocks away on Lincoln st,had a person in my class named Margret that lived in one of the damaged houses,really close to the deli.
I would really like to see the neighborhood again
Aug. 21, 2008, 5:18 pm
SB says:
Just as an FYI, the McCaddin family was not "pulled from the rubble".
Aug. 20, 2009, 8:31 pm
Sal from Park Slope says:
I was 13 years old in the shower when I heard my Mom shout to me that a plane had just crashed on Sterling Place.

As a little boy growing up on Baltic Street between 4th and 5th Avenues up until that day that we attended The Pillar of Fire church We my older brother and I and my Mom "were the congregation, there were only 5 members 3 of them were my mother big brother and me.

The edifice was a marvelous structure. I knew Mr. Lewis that perished in the crash. He was the Caretaker of the church.

I remember studying his old rather boney fingers and marveled somewhat at his pale white pasty looking skin. Such things, such as stare at someone's hand draped over the pew directly in front of him shows what a Kid might think of a long-winded BUT eloquent speaker. And then suddenly, in an instant, it was all gone in a ... "Pillar of Fire," Mr Lewis as well.

Sal Costa
Bangkok Thailand
May 3, 2010, 11:23 am
John Adams from Formerly Flatbush says:
I'm happy for all the yuppies who have been gentrifying the neighborhood that they can push the memories that are still etched in my mind away. Money's being made on overpriced condos so everybody's happy, right?

Not a word in your article about 11-year-old Stephen Baltz from Willmet, Illinois, , who was thrown from the DC-8 and lived until 10 AM the following morning when he succumbed to pneumonia as a result of his having breathed-in burning jet fuel. He was horribly burned over eighty-percent of his body. Eleven-years-old and you didn't even mention him. Time is money, you know.
Nov. 26, 2010, 6:50 pm
Anthony from park slope says:
I was 9 yrs old at the time I was on degraw st at the time of the crash . It flew over our block you can see a large shadow of the plane from flying over our back yard. It was a cold with a mixture of snow and rain. There was snow already on the ground from a previous snow storm. I'm now 59 and still can remember this horrible day. I knew the man selling christmas trees ! The smell of burning jet fuel was in the air for many days ! I still continue to visit the plane crash every year ! I did see Steven Baltz on the snow bank he looked like a rag doll clothes all black and torn. He had fear that I never saw before ! Steven that brave little boy was 11 yrs old i was 9 yrs old !
God Bless him In Heaven may he rest in peace !

Anthony
From park slope brooklyn

I will never forget and make others not to forget either
Dec. 24, 2010, 10:18 am
David from Park Slope says:
At the time of the crash my Aunt was at work just one block away at the Cadillac dealership on St. Johns Pl and 8th Ave. Also my Grandmother had just passed the intersection riding on a city bus. So I came close to losing two family members that day.
March 22, 2013, 2:36 pm

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