Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Boyms and Beyond: Collecting Disaster Buildings

Is this a building of disaster?

It certainly appears to be.

With the "Buildings of Disaster" series (begun in 1997 and continuing today), Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym (i.e. Boym Designs) created replicas of famous and infamous structures where some tragic or terrible events took place. They offered them as "souvenirs" for our time. Souvenirs of human tragedy, even violent events, are a part of our "object-history," as they termed them. Each year crowds of people visit the battlefield of Gettysburg, as well as the site of the car crash which killed Diana, Princess of Wales. Source.

Ten years ago, the "Building Collector" blog wrote about the Boym Partners' Buildings of Disaster (see here). As that essay notes, Constantin Boym described them as an "alternative history of architecture."

The original series are only available in resale, for often a thousand dollar each, separately, or several thousands together. They originally sold for about $95 each. Nevertheless, we have photographs of the offerings and related buildings. Here is a record of the Boym buildings, and followed by associated candidates for collectors of building souvenirs of disaster.

Boym's list of the originals:

Using the list above, as a way to organize the images, here are the offerings, as found throughout the Internet.

Texas School Book Depository, Nov 22, 1963 (by Boym Designs).

Texas School Book Depository, Nov 22, 1963 (by InFocusTech). 

World Trade Center, Feb 26, 1993

The Unabomber Cabin, 1997

The Boyms also issued a bird house based on the cabin.

Triangle Shirtwaist Company, March 25, 1911 

Texas A&M Bonfire Tower, November 8, 1999 

The World Trade Center, September 11, 2001 

The Dakota Building, December 8, 1980 (by InFocusTech.)

The Hands of Victory, Baghdad 1989-2003 

The Empire State Building, July 28, 1945 

The Obama White House, 2009 [not a Building of Disaster, but aligned to the series because of President Obama occupying the White House in 2009].

The UT Tower, Austin, TX, August 1, 1966 

Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai, November 26, 2008 

Not on the list, but apparently a Boym Designs "Building of Disaster" is the Greenwich Village Townhouse.

The Greenwich Village Townhouse explosion occurred on March 6, 1970, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It was caused by the premature detonation of a bomb that was being assembled by members of the Weather Underground, an American radical left group. The bomb was under construction in the basement of the 1845-built Greek Revival townhouse at 18 West 11th Street, when it accidentally exploded; the blast reduced the four-story townhouse to a burning, rubble-strewn ruin. The two persons preparing the bomb were killed instantly (Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins), as was a third "Weatherman" who happened to be walking into the townhouse (Ted Gold); two others were injured but were helped from the scene and later escaped (Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson).


The Boyms issued a limited gold-plated Buildings of Disaster in 2007 (see here). The eight buildings in this series were Neverland Ranch, WTC 9/11, OJ Car Chase, Pentagon 9/11, Watergate, Oklahoma City Federal Building, Unabomber, and Waco, Texas.


Unfortunately for my collecting, the original series of the Boym's Buildings of Disaster appeared during a time when I could not financially afford any of them. Try as I might in recent years, I have been unable to find any for sale at any price that could be called reasonable nowadays. But the search will go on for me. 

So what is a collector who admires the idea to do? 

Step One: In the new century, Boym Designs decided to re-visit the Buildings of Disaster concept with more ideas. The first one in their new series is the Osama Bin Laden House. I picked it up at their new, modest price.

My copy, with an American quarter for scale.

Osama Bin Laden House, Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011
Following numerous requests by our collectors, we resume the series of Buildings of Disaster, miniature replicas of structures related to tragic or violent events. The first building in the new collection is Osama Bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad, a place where he was killed by US Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011.
Every object is individually cast of specially formulated material, bonded metal. The building is 4.5” by 3.5” by 1.5” high. No more than 500 pieces will be made. Each one is hand-finished and consecutively numbered. Source.

Step Two: As noted, other companies have produced buildings that could be obtained to secure one's own "disaster buildings" collection.

Needless to say, New York City's Twin Towers made before and after 9/11/2001 are sought as collectibles by many people. None have the damaged floors like the Boyms' ones do, but the non-Boym models are purchased by many collectors when they are seen.

Other examples exist, such as the Dakota and the Texas Book School Depository buildings, obtainable from InFocusTech.

Here are a few others that come to mind:

The Ambassador Hotel stood at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue, Los Angeles, from 1921 until it was demolished in 2005. The famed Cocoanut Grove Nightclub was the place to rub elbows with the biggest names in Hollywood for more than four decades. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the decline of the neighborhood, the Ambassador's fate was sealed. It is an excellent replica. Source.

The Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio, Texas) is the site of The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836). The conflict was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna, overran the Alamo and killed all of the Texian (vs Texans, who are residents of modern Texas) defenders. These are relatively easy to find as souvenirs.

Fort Sumter is the location of the beginning of the American Civil War on April 12, 1861. It also is a relatively obtainable souvenir.

The Hindenburg was involved in the disaster of May 6, 1937, as the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey, United States. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), there were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen). One worker on the ground was also killed, raising the final death toll to 36. (This is an InFocusTech building; click on the name above for further info.)

Certain buildings, bridges, and other structures have become magnets for suicides. One such building, Chicago's Aqua is an architectural wonder, and one of the classic buildings produced by InFocusTech (link here). Suicides by jumping from the Aqua on December 20, 2017, and on August 4, 2014, have cemented its sinister reputation. (This too is an InFocusTech building; click on its name above for further info.)

The Golden Gate Bridge is a marvel, and available as a souvenir, especially in San Francisco. InFocusTech's replica is "out of stock." Since it opened in 1937, over 1500 people have died by suicide from jumping from the bridge. Souvenirs of the Golden Gate Bridge are fairly common in San Francisco.

Suicide bombers destroyed more than the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Building 7 was located at the World Trade Center Complex in New York City. Completed in 1987 and destroyed on September 11th 2001. This building was designed by Emery Roth & Sons and stood 570 feet tall with 47 floors. InFocusTech makes this replica.

Some buildings are tied to disasters by their history. Take, for example, the Cliff House that was located at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California, and in the above incarnation, as a 8-story Victorian palace, was completed in 1896. This building was designed by architects Lemme & Colley and burned down in 1907. (This is InFocusTech's pewter replica.)

The Green Man is a stylish green resin mannequin, guardian of my 500+ small building souvenirs and other items, such as the vintage St. Augustine banner, from all of my trips and collecting.

If you would like to join the Souvenir Building Collectors Society, please visit their website here. I am a member only, not a director nor board member. I get no fiscal kickback from this recruitment endorsement of the SBCS.

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