Flashback: Fiery start of L.E.S. summer of ’89

BY YANNIC RACK | It was a flame-filled end of June on the Lower East Side in 1989.

About 27 years ago, a string of arson attacks lit up four abandoned buildings in the neighborhood, as The Villager reported in its July 6 issue.

The first fire engulfed three six-story city-owned buildings on E. Second St. Ninety firefighters battled the blaze in the early hours of June 4 until one of the buildings had collapsed entirely.

“The fire was throughout the building,” a Fire Department spokesperson later told the paper’s reporter. “No fire starts everywhere all at once unless it is arson.”

One next-door neighbor said there had been 40 to 50 fires in the area over the past two years, and that the buildings had “brought trouble for years” and were essentially “a shooting gallery” for drug addicts. The city had plans to rehabilitate them for low- and moderate-income families.

Just three days later, another fire occurred on Avenue D, as a building went up in flames right next to an empty lot where another tenement had burned to the ground slightly more than a month earlier.

The building was another city-owned property. A Fire Department assistant commissioner said afterward that the structure had “a heavy odor of an accelerant,” according to The Villager’s report.

Interestingly, in the case of the E. Second St. fire, the Ninth Precinct commanding officer noted afterward that two locals had told him earlier that night that, instead of watching bargoers nearby, he and his officers should instead patrol the vicinity of the buildings that were to be set ablaze later.

One of those men was none other than Clayton Patterson, the longtime Lower East Side documentarian and artist (and contributor to this paper), who later waved off any connection to the suspected arson incident.

“Patterson, a video tape artist,” the article noted, “says his warnings were ‘purely coincidental’ and perhaps even an ‘artist’s premonition.’ ”

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