Herb Somerwitz



Survey Party - When I had been with the PA’s Contracts Division-Law Department a little over four years, I was given the assignment of drafting/reviewing the main contracts for the Bus Terminal Modernization of the mid-Seventies. Among these was the agreement for the foundations for the North Wing, awarded to the DeMatteis organization. After a few months Engineering received reports from the church across 42nd Street and the porn/strip theater close to the northwest 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue corner that blasting by the contractor had caused serious cracks in the buildings. For some unknown reason, my Division Chief and I were asked to meet our construction engineers at the porn theater to “inspect” the claimed damage. We were told that the site had been surveyed before construction started but nevertheless the lawyers needed to do an “inspection”.

So, on a warm and humid late spring morning dressed in a suit and tie and wearing leather-soled loafers, I arrived and was escorted to a low roof which faced 42nd Street. Above loomed a building of several stories with a brick outer wall and a ladder bolted to the brick. The ladder did not have what I recognized as steps, instead it had rounded rungs. It was about 3 feet wide. Visible above were cracks which appeared to have been previously patched/caulked/plastered/grouted. The cracks were about 25 feet above the roof. I was instructed to climb the ladder and “inspect”.

Law school, while offering a course on negligence, had no course on ladder climbing. My two years in the Peace Corps in Peru had prepared me for harrowing bus rides in the Andes, fighting off red ants in the jungle, and various types of amoebic dysentery, but not for this ladder climbing. My prior experience in ladder climbing was a five-foot climb from the tracks at the High Street subway station during the 1965 power blackout where a burly NYC fireman was there to assist. Further I had no experience with blasting cracks. I fearfully climbed the 25 feet, reported that the cracks looked the same close up as they had from the roof, and backed down the ladder about five times more slowly than I had inched upwards.

Later we were told that the PA had repaired the cracks in the church although, it believed that they were pre-existing. I think the porn theater claims were denied. Sometime during the subway ride back to WTC I stopped shaking. But for years whenever my family and I walked from the Bus Terminal to Restaurant Row I focused on Shake Shack and did not gaze upwards.



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