By Holly Dutton
Nearly thirty-six years ago, Lori Gold received news that would change her life.
A Coney Island native, both Gold and her younger sister Grace attended Barnard College in Morningside Heights. On graduation day, 1979, Grace was walking down Broadway with friends when masonry fell from a building at West 115th, striking her and killing her.
Gold, a recent grad, was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, working for Procter & Gamble, and was preparing for a work trip with her boss in the morning when she got a phone call late on a Wednesday night from her Uncle Abe.
“He told me, you should come home,” Gold recalled. At first, she shrugged it off, saying she’d like to, but was busy with work, but he kept pressing. That’s when she realized something was wrong.
“Then he told me what happened,” she said. “And everything changed. A lot of that stuff is still a blur.”
Her sister’s tragic death led the city to pass Local Law 10 in 1980, which required building owners to periodically inspect building exteriors every five years. It also meant big changes for the industry – the law requires that the inspections be done by a licensed architect or engineer.
In 1998, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Local Law 11 was passed, which further expanded on Local Law 10, adding many more requirements. Local Law 11 later evolved into FISP – the Façade Inspection Safety Program, which runs in cycles every five years.
Now, members of the construction, engineering and architecture industries are teaming up with a scholarship fund at Barnard that Gold started, The Grace Gold Memorial Scholarship Fund, to help give back, with big plans for the future.
Architects, engineers, members of the construction industry, and even a staffer from the DOB all sat down to brainstorm how to expand on the scholarship fund after a fundraising breakfast for last week at Barnard.
Norman Weiss, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, first met Gold when she was campaigning to get the street where her sister died renamed in her honor, and was looking to get supporting signatures to bring to the Community Board.
The idea to contact Weiss came from Diane Kaese, an architect who signed the street-naming petition. When Gold called him and told him her story, Weiss started to cry.
“He’d been taking his students to that street corner [where Grace was killed] for 35 years,” said Gold. After meeting, Weiss helped Lori through the process of creating “Grace Gold Way” along Broadway between West 115th and West 116th Streets.
“His idea is to augment the purpose of the scholarship fund to include students in the buildings, architects, and planning industries,” she said. “To include all the people who have benefitted from Local Law 11 for 35 years and have them support the fund because they’ve been deriving benefits from it. It benefits everyone in the city, but they need to come together. And now the scholarship fund will help students going into those fields.”
A ceremony was held where Gold unveiled the “Grace Gold Way” street sign following the fundraising breakfast at Barnard March 19. City Council members and law enforcement officers were present at the ceremony, along Grace’s friends and family.
The ceremony came just two days after a 37-year-old woman was killed in Manhattan after a sheet of plywood was ripped from a fence surrounding luxury condo conversion The Greenwich Lane construction site on a windy day, slamming the woman into a building on W. 12th Street in the West Village.
This tragedy, as well as a recent incident where plexiglass fell from One57 in Midtown and damaged two cars, was discussed at the gathering, though they pointed out that the construction site death does not fall under Local Law 11, since it was from a construction fence and not a building.
“As far as public policy, we’re on board with you,” Dolores Spivack from the DOB, who also attended the meeting, told other participants. “We don’t want to be reactive, we want to be proactive.”
The group discussed wanting to improve public safety and make real improvements to the industry.
“Our bellies are full,” said Wayne Bellet, who heads up a family-owned construction firm that was first started by his grandfather nearly 90 years ago. “We want to give back.”
Lori, who owns her own consulting firm in Hollywood, Florida, where she lives, started the scholarship fund at Barnard in 2013. Following the fundraising breakfast, the endowed fund has raised more than $100,000.
“It’s amazing to me,” said Gold, after the conclusion of the meeting. “I love the fact that the industry is taking ownership. I think it’s beautiful.”