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THE DAY THAT SHOOK BAILEY'S CROSSROADS

[November 29th] -- I was thinking about the Senators the other day, and got to thinking about my time growing up as a kid in an area from roughly T.C. Williams High School (it wasn't there yet) to Seven Corners Shopping Center. I saw a lot of things happen from 1960-1974 -- some I remember, some I don't. But I do remember that day in March, 1973.

The Skyline Apartments in Northern Virginia is today one of the most attractive complexes that were built in the mid 1970's. It has been renovated several times to keep up with the times, and provides a warm and attractive place to live

I doubt that many people know today that one of its buildings collapsed, killing several workers.

The construction of the Skyline Towers began in the early 1970's. The site was just north of Bailey's Crossroads in Northern Virginia, on the site of the old "piper cub airport." It had a more proper name, the "Washington-Virginia Airport." It sat on a prime piece of real estate that bordered both Seminary Road and Rout 7. Because of it's location, the Pentagon often used it for helicoptor and small aircraft trials. I remember the Goodyear blimp landing there sometime in the early to mid 1960's, and heard about some old WWII planes dressed up as Japanese fighters landing there on their way to stardom in the movie "Tora Tora Tora." By 1970, however, the encroachment of housing and telephone lines made it difficult for pilots to safely land there, and the airport that was built on Mary Cornelius’ property during World War II was sold to developers for apartment construction.

I lived on the 7th floor of the Woodlake Towers Apartments, and once the building's construction reached the third floor, I could see the towers grow from our balcony. By my senior year, 1974, the skeleton for the first building had just about reached its apex. Although the buildings began to loom over the area, we didn't give them much thought.

That is, until "that" day.

I was riding school bus #724 home from J.E.B. Stuart High School when a police car whizzed by, siren on, very unusual in Fairfax County. Within a few moments, another squad car shot past the bus heading down Columbia Pike towards Bailey's Crossroads. Suddenly, the local fire company blared its siren and its fire engines and emergency vehicles shot in the same direction. We knew something was happening, but we weren't sure what.

I entered my apartment, turned on WTTG channel 5 and made my favorite post school-day snack, a cheese sandwich with sesame crust bread. I lounged on the couch for a couple minutes and then walked by the balcony and glanced in the direction of the Skyline Towers. Something seemed different. Instead of just one building, there were two. I didn't understand. I pointed my telescope towards the building and the story became painfully clear. Part of the top floor caved in, in turn forcing each concrete slab down on the lower floor, beginning a downward domino effect that tore the building in two. Dust was still in the air and helicopters were circling the building. It was horrendous.

If memory serves, 11 men died when the concrete floors pancaked on their way down. A few months later, it was determined that the general contractor used substandard materials and to make matters worse, didn't use enough rebarb in the poor quality concrete. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Today, the towers are beautiful and serve their tenants well. But 30 years ago, the first building suffered a loss of both integrity and lives. I'd bet this story would come as a surprise to most living in the community today.

"Screech's Best Friend" From "Nats 320" left a comment that said in part, "There is a Burke & Herbert Bank located on Seminary Road, which, at the time of the airport's existence--was on the south side of the runway. ToyRUs was on the North Side of the runway on Rte 7--Leesburg Pike. Even today, that Burke & Herbert Bank has the RED RUNWAY LANDING LIGHTS on top of its building--lining up with the NW-SE Runway that existed at that time. TRU later moved back--onto the site of the actual runway, and still exists there today." There you go, Screech. I found pictures of the bank showing the landing lights. Thanks for pointing that out.


Comments:
Wow. I can see the Skyline Towers, less than a mile from me, from my window as I type from my home in South Arlington.

I had no idea that had happened. I swear if it weren't for you and Screech's Best Friend I'd have no idea of what went on before I moved to the area in 1996.

Thanks!

Oh, and you'd be surprised how many more tall buildings are going up nearby. Also, a brand new T.C. Williams is being built right next to the existing T.C. Williams. It's massive.

You'll be pleased to know that the Seven Corners and Bailey's Crossroads areas are still firmly entrenched in the 1960s and 70s...kind of run down at this point, actually.
 
There is a Burke & Herbert Bank located on Seminary Road, which, at the time of the airport's existence--was on the south side of the runway. ToyRUs was on the North Side of the runway on Rte 7--Leesburg Pike. Even today, that Burke & Herbert Bank has the RED RUNWAY LANDING LIGHTS on top of its building--lining up with the NW-SE Runway that existed at that time. TRU later moved back--onto the site of the actual runway, and still exists there today.

As amazing as it may seem--My brother, Michael and I were at the Jack In The Box with some TC WIlliams/Hammond HS friends, less than 500 yards away, east of RTE 7, when the building collapsed. The sound was EARTHQUAKE LIKE. That Jack In The Box, is now a Popeyes Fried Chicken.

There has been rumors for years that 2 bodies were never found and their ghosts haunt the parking deck under the East Tower. Never believed it.

Yes, and its true, Baileys CrossRoads and Seven Corners are just part of the strip mall set the area has become.
 
I'm surprised that the area has been reduced to what you two describe. I had figured that the "Culmore Apartments" (all those red-brick two story apartments behind Culmore Shopping Center) would have long ago been renovated into high priced condos.

I haven't been home since 1986. I play with google satellite all the time, and I can navigate the old haunts very easily from 7 corners to Bailey's Crossroads. Once I go beyond that area, I have a tough time distinguishing any landmarks.
 
Culmore Apartments has become the Low Rent District. The 7-11 the hangout for day laborers. Not pretty
 
Before moving overseas in August, I lived the last 5 years in the Skyline Square condo complex, which is one of the four Skyline complexes. The story of the collapsed tower and the fact that the whole place is on the site of a former airport is well-known and soon reported to newcomers in Skyline Square, at least. Possibly because we still have a fair number of original owners that moved in when the complex was new. I even had the airport lights on the bank pointed out to me early on.

But help me on this, I thought the building that collapsed was actually part of what today is the Skyline PLAZA condo complex, on George Mason Drive at Rt 7, instead of Skyline Towers apartment buildings on Seminary Rd at Carlin Springs road. Wasn't Skyline Plaza the first of the four complexes to be built on the site? I know mine was built in 1982, and that was one of the later ones.
 
Skyline Plaza is the one that collapsed, the building on the corner of George Mason and Rte 7, next to McDonalds.
 
Farid, I guarantee you that, had MLB awarded the Nats franchise to Malek Group instead of the cheap and secretive Lerners, you would not be writing on your Nats blog about an apartment building that collapsed 33 years ago. You must feel like the Maytag repair man.
 
Phil, I guess the real reason I wrote about the Skyline Towers collapse is because it's something that I clearly remember, and thought some in the area might not know about (which seems to be the case). The time before the winter meetings is usually pretty calm, and, rather than let TBB go dark for a day or two, I wrote about something that was an important part of my personal history.

Would Malek have spent more -- done more -- initially then the Lerners? Absolutely. But I think they are using their real estate "sense" on the Nationals; that is to build a solid foundation and make choices based on the long-term. Sure, it's driving me crazy today, and tomorrow, and next year. But three or four years from now, this business plan will likely have made sense.
 
Wow I didn't realize so many of my fellow bloggers grew up near my neighborhood. I went to TC Williams (lived off of Braddock Road) but I'm a bit younger (I graduated in 1989). I DID know about the tower collapse, but didn't know about the Piper Airport...very cool information. See you guys around the Natosphere...

-Ron from Nationals Nation
 
My father learned to fly at that airport! I remember it as a young child!
 
Hello everyone. I remember the old drive-in theater an korvettes. My family moved to Golden Gate Apartments in 1975 and my parents lived there until 2001 so we watched from our living room window as that whole area grew from one building t what it is today.
 
i just watched modern marvels on the history channel, and there was mention of this construction tragedy at the skyline plaza... i just wonder if the people who live there currently have experianced any hauntings.
 
Does anyone remember Bernie's Pony Ring? I grew up in Falls Church off Annandale Road between Jefferson Village and Broyhill Park. We use to go to Bernie's and pay for the ride with RC Cola caps. Some of my brothers worked for Bernie's.
 
My sister and I rode ponies there in the early 60's. I grew up in Bailey's (1960 - 1972) and knew every square foot of it. I went to Glen Forest Elementary. The X roads at that time had Hot Shoppes, the Pony Ride, the fire deptarment and the stone houses in the 4 corners created by Rt 7 and Columbia Pike. My dad used to drink beer with his WW 2 buddies at Les Paris, a little bar in Culmore shopping center. I remember the Piper Airport and Sunset Drive In very well.
 
I went to Glen Forest too, from '62-'68 before moving and going to Bailey's Elementary for 6th grade.

The vast majority of my life from ages 8-18 happened from just north of that old Piper Cub Airport to 7-Corners shopping center.

Though it's been 35 years since I lived there, I can close my eyes and picture every building, every home, every stoplight from 7-Corners to Bailey's Crossroads.

I don't want to be young again, but love those memories.
 
Thanks for the memories...Bernie's Pony Ring, Sunset Drive-in (where kids would play on the swingset in their pj's) , Children's Supermarket (now Toys-R-Us), Hot Shoppes, the carnival in the E.J. Korvettes parking lot in the summer, the competing Burger Chef (long gone) & McDonald's (yep, still there), the parking lot of the Coca-Cola plant where I learned to ride my first bike, the stone house on the corner of Columbia Pike with the daffodils where my mother would take me for tea with the other ladies of the garden club.... just some of the memories of my childhood in Dowden Terrace.. As a small child I witnessed another tragedy in the neighborhood when a plane carrying gubernatorial candidate Henry Howell crash-landed at the piper cub airport, Howell was not injured, I do not know about any of the other passengers and crew...Great photos took me back - thanks!
 
I remember the Hot Shoppes, drive-in, and the airport, from when I was a kid.

One thing that's been there forever that I can't remember what it was about, is the windmill thingie in the intersection. What is that?

Grew up in Annandale, went to church at Glencarlyn Baptist, moved away in the early 80s and just came back. Typing this from Skyline Plaza (the exact part that fell down, in fact).
 
Excellent writeup on Skyline. You might want to check out The Solomon Scandals (Twilight Time Books, 2009), my novel inspired by Skyline and related events. You can order from bn.com or borrow the book from some Fairfax County Library branches. The Web site is at solomonscandals.com, and a Skyline page is at http://www.solomonscandals.com/?p=249. - David Rothman, davidrothmanNOSPAMpobox.com.
 
Wow seems like all the fun stuff went away when I started growing up there (minus the Skyline incident which shocked me as well)I went to Glenn Forrest too but moved closer to Bailey's Elementry were I finished most of elementry. I stayed in those low-income 2 story apts. that Screetch's BF mentioned I had good memories there but the area poorly kept.
I never understood why there were run way lights on that bank untill now.
 
I was born in '84, so I wasn't around for the colapse, and I've lived here all my life and never heard about it. I was watching 'Engineering Disasters' on the History channel and it blew my mind when the collapse of Skyline Towers came up.
 
My former Boss at Miller and Long was concrete Supt. on the building that collapsed .It was engineering flaws that dropped that building not contractor error
Jimmy Arnold was never the same he was used as the scape goat And died a very sad man he was procecuted but it was through the lack of engineering and proper inspectors that the building dropped it is the reason for a nation building code know as theshold inspection or the for stripping of concrete structures all concrete now must have engineers stripping letter stating that concrete has achieved 75% of design strength before stripping and must be post shored for full 28 days after or that 100% strength is met which is 28 days for design strength.
 
The pony ring! How many times I've told my kids about that, and about Gifford's, the ice cream shop across from an old antique store, in which history could be learned.

I had always heard that it was the fact that the concrete had not set enough to build on top of it. Wasn't it the Fairfax Journal that did a lot of reporting on the story? There was a lot of speculation that the owners pushed to get the towers up too fast, as I remember.
 
Interesting item on that incredibly awful disaster. Saw a documentary on the History channel once that described how and why it happened. Also the intense heat from the pressure vaporized just about everything.

My dad has run the shoe repair shop @ Bradlee Shopping Center for the last 55 years (first in the Cleaners and now in its own spot.) I remember as an 11 year old when he came home and tried to explain what happened that day.

Ironically, he now lives in the South Building.
 
I remember the collapse as well. I grew up near 7 Corners and my wife grew up near the Coke plant. We were talking a few weeks ago about Giffords as they're now selling Giffords ice cream at some of the local grocery stores. Still great, just not like going there...

I ended up working at Skyline for several years in one of the buildings and "lucked" out by being sick a few years ago when they had the Anthrax scare...

The area has definitely changed quite a bit over the years, but I still get down there about once a month or so...
 
Me living in Virginia now for 18 years has never been as amazing and memorable than living in Baileys Crossroads. My friend use to live in Skyline plaza and said that they wanted to move because of they scary things they were hearing at night (they lived on the basement floor). I went to Baileys Elem, Glasgow and am now a Senior at J.E.B. Stuart HS. I love Baileys CrossRoads.
 
I lived in Alexandria from 1963-1977 and went to TC Williams High School also. My first husband worked at Skyline towers with the Miller and Long company but on that fateful day had called in sick to work. Thank God for that. He did tell me that the company was rushing with the construction of the building. He lost three of his best friends in the accident. He left the construction field of work after the collaspe. I remember the Hot Shoppes, and the Sunset Drive In.
 
I used to live in Arlington, and my apartment's dining room window had a clear view of the Skyline Towers. I remember the collapse very well, as if it were yesterday. What a horrible thing. I used to go to the movies at the Cinema 7 in Bailey's Crossroads and shopped at the Giant Food and Korvettes across the street. I live in my hometown of Miami, Florida now.
 
By the way, I saw BILLY JACK probably half a dozen times at the Cinema 7 theatre. I also used to go to the FAIR LANES bowling alley there too. My name is Dale Ramsey and I went to Kenmore Junior High in Arlington.
 
I too lived in the area, Springfield, at the time of the accident. I drove over to view the scene a day or two later. Could only find two buildings there. Then I realized that it was one building with the center missing.

My curreent interest in the accident was brought about by a Popular Mechanics Book "Debunking 9/11 Myths. The progressive collapse of the towers duplicated what happened there. The Bailey's Crossroads accident was initiated by the premature removal of supports from the poured concrete top story.

There was a parking deck on the same site whose second story floor also pancaked down from the shock of the copllase. The supporting columns remained standing with the deck having slid down them.

I also remember a student pilot landing a bit short of the nearby airport runway. He ended up on top of a delivery truck at an adjacent soft drink botteling plant.

I now live near Charlotte NC. Moved down here in the 70s after spending six hours trapped in traffic on the beltway I figured there had to be a less stressful place to live. Told the local folk that we yankees couldn't really drive in snow either. Also acknowledged that the roads worked both ways. Great folks down here.

Richard L. Pearson Sr.
 
Many thanks for sharing such a good blog
 
HEY OUT THERE WHAT ABOUT THE SLOT CAR TRACK ON LEE HIGHWAY AND GLEBE RD .? AND THE GLEBE THEATER?AND HOWARD JOHNSONS ON LEE HGY. AND TOPPS DR. IN ? AND PEOPLES DRUG STORE WHER YOU COULD GET LUNCH AND A COKE ......... L. LUNSFORD @FREDERICKSBURG,VA
 
Yep, I lived on Hawthorn Avenue in Dowden Terrace, the last house on the street before the creek and backed up to the DT pool. I used to go to the airport with my dad to get our hair cut every other Saturday, played little league base ball at the field at the south-east end of the runway until they parked a DC-10 in the middle of the field. Saw many movies at the Sunset Drive-In, rode all of Bernie's Ponies many times, went to Fairfax Brewster elementary school which is just west of Baily's X Roads on RT 7 just before Culmore shopping center and then move waaaay out to Annandale to attend Luther Jackson and Robert Frost middle schools and then to Woodson HS. I graduated in 1971 so I was long gone when the building collapsed but I remember hearing about from my friends who were still living in the area at the time. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
 
As I remember there was a crane on top of the building that started the collapse. It was to heavy for the poor quality of constuction material. My dad was manager of the Hot Shoppes - loved the ponies.
 
I'm in Dallas these days, but as a boy lived first near Baileys Crossroads and then Lake Barcroft. I remember the pony ring. Clearly. Wow. That someone else remembers this.... I think they also had a couple of small (read, tiny) rides, too, didn't they? I may have had my first horse ride there.
 
I also loved Hot Shoppes and Red Barn. There was also an Arthur Treachers Fish and Chips that had a mean Shepherds Pie. There was a pita place, EJ Korvette, and a pizza shop in Culmore that was pretty darn awesome. Fun going down these memories.
 
Ah, don't forget Gifford's, Michael. Man, those were some good times(for the most part) back then I had totally forgotten about the Red Barn, but remember the pony ring and the other places you mentioned.

I remember that day the building collapsed as well. It was a clear day and I felt a thunderous boom and a shaking of the ground, then siren after siren going in the same direction. Sometime later that night or the next, Dad took us to see it. George Wilson was with us...There we were in the strip mall across from it at the Old Montgomery Wards/strip mall parking lot. I remember the huge floodlight illuminating the building from the ground up, and knowing that people died there made it most ominous.


 
how bizzarre, huh?
 
I applied for a job at Gifford's and the manager wanted to hire me so bad and then found out I wasn't 18 yet (their rule, I think I was 17). The day I turned 18, he called me and offered me a job. I was working at People's Drug at the time so I couldn't take the job but that was the first time in my life I felt really important.

Does anyone remember the parking lot on top of the Montgomery Ward's building at 7-Corners? My dad would pull into the parking lot and drive up this ramp and there we were, on top of the building.

I thought that was about the coolest thing in the world.

Farid
 
40 years ago today I was in the parking garage pulling nails from boards,I thought it was an earthquake at first, 4 guys 50 feet away were not as forunate as I ran out with scrapes and bruises.
they were shoveling debris in a truck,all just kids in our 20's.
 
I lived in Golden Gate apartments from January 1973 until May 1974. I worked at People's Drug Store on the front cash register. On the day of the Skyline accident, I remember hearing a loud boom and saw the window of the
drug store vibrate. Then I had many customers buying camera film to take pictures, at the end of the day all our film was sold out. It is sad that people lost their lives because the project was rushed.
 
I read this article and it brought back many memories. I was working there that day. I worked for Charles E. Smith Building Corp and ran the "Man Lift" (another name for personnel elevator) for the site. I could talk for hours about that day and it would take me weeks to put that down in printed words, so I'll just make a few comments about the article and a couple of the comments.
It didn't collapse in 1974. It collapsed on Mar 2, 1973.
It was not the first building constructed. It was actually building 3. The first set of 2 buildings was completed and building 1 was already occupied with building 2 about to be occupied. (This I know because I was dating a girl who lived in building 1 and I'd visit her for lunch).
It was said that 11 men died. It was really 14. 3 men were in the garage that collapsed. Of the 11, a company called Mayfair Drywall from Rockport MD lost it's entire crew on site that day. They were working on the 5th floor and never heard any warnings from all the workers scrambling to get out.
Someone else said they were stripping the concrete from the top floor. Then top floor was the 23rd and was the one being poured. the 22nd floor was the one being stripped. The labor crew for Robert Miller Concrete Constr. had been on the 20th floor that morning stripping under the 21st floor which they finished just before lunch. It was Friday afternoon just after lunch when they moved to the 21st and began cutting the steel column bands. It was then that they noticed the concrete columns holding up the still uncured 22nd floor had started to expand and the ceiling was sagging. They evacuated. The crane operator (last name Taylor, but no relation to me) noticed the crane was beginning to list to the side and climbed down. As everybody on the top floor ran one way, Mr Taylor and a labored named Butch ran in the other direction. The building then collapsed in the middle, leaving the 2 of them atop the now skinny tower that now had no stairway. They spent close to man hour on that swaying tower before a helicopter from Ft Belvoir picked them off the top.
I also remember half of a stairway surviving intact with my foreman Martin "Shorty" Lawton crawling out from it alive and covered entirely in gray concrete dust from head to toe. It was just weird to look at.
After the head count at our trailers. I wandered over to the FairLanes bowling alley next door to make a phone call to my family up in the Boston area because they were sure to hear it on the news that night. A waitress walked up to me as I was dialing, put a cold beer in my hand, and said, "This is on me".
The rest of the story would take hours to retell, so I'll just leave it that.

Bob Taylor

 
Did a little bit of checking and and I have to correct myself on a couple of points. It was the 24th floor that was being poured, the crew had moved to the 22nd floor and was stripping the underside of the 23rd floor.
I see people referring to Miller and Long Construction Co, but I still remember the name Robert Miller Concrete Constr. Maybe I'm wrong or maybe it was a division of Miller and Long.
The crane operator's name was Joe Taylor. Besides myself and Joe, there was another Taylor on the job. Charlie Taylor was the job's building superintendent for Charles E Smith.
 
I think about those men that died in the towers each time I drive out that way. I think that one of the killed men was supposed to get married the next day. I remember Walter Cronkite leading the news with the collapse. It was national news in our little neck of the world.
 
My father was one of the workers killed that day. I was 4 years old at the time and my brother was 7.
 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I lived in Golden Gate apartments from January 1973 until May 1974. I worked at People's Drug Store on the front cash register. On the day of the Skyline accident, I remember hearing a loud boom and saw the window of the
drug store vibrate. Then I had many customers buying camera film to take pictures, at the end of the day all our film was sold out. It is sad that people lost their lives because the project was rushed."

I worked at that People's Drug Store too, 1974 I think. Steve Stacks took over the store and brought me with him from the 7-corners store where he was an assistant. I loved working there.

Farid
 
I was in 10th grade at Wakefield High on the day of the collapse. I remember a loud boom and shaking and as we left the building, many students that either got out of school early or were skipping class came walking back to the school from MaDonalds covered in dust and debris. All were one color that fateful day, chalk white.
On a better note, I loved the pony rides and Hot Shoppes and always wondered who lived in the lovely stone home at Bailey's Crossroads.
Does anyone know of a site where it lists all that died in the collapse?
 
I was working on the building in 73 when it fell. It was indeed caused by pulling the shores out too soon on lower floors. I personally helped pull the shores and took them to upper floors where we were short of shoring. This happened a day or two before the collapse. I do not know for certain who gave the order to pull the shores. I was just a lowly carpenter. I was told later it was the super who was in a hurry to continue the stepping up of the forms? Who knows? It most likely is the truth. God bless the workers who were killed and injured, and their families. It is not a feeling I ever wish to experience again. Thank god for the tower crane in the middle of the structure.It saved mine and another fellow's life by still standing after the fall of the building. I worked for Miller and long, and after the fall they wore known as Killer and long among const. workers in the area!
 
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