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Bodine Grapple Brings Mansion’s Walls Tumbling Down

Wed March 01, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Isn’t it ironic that the man who invented what might be called a “mini-grapple” has just had his mansion razed by a big demolition grapple? In the 1960s, one of New York City’s most famous eye surgeons, Dr. Ramon Castroviejo, invented an ophthalmic instrument, “the Castroviejo forceps” more than 10 years before the construction industry came up with the demolition grapple.

The doctor’s 1,115- square-meter (12,000 sq. ft.) waterfront home on the “Gold Coast” of Center Island in Oyster Bay on Long Island’s posh north shore has an illustrious history. It was purchased in 1981 by Jack Friedman, CEO of International Flavors and Fragrances, a publicly traded corporation which manufactured the “smell” for Revlon products and the “taste” for Baskin-Robbins.

This year the stately home was sold to a new owner who bought it at a rumored price of $6 million for demolition, to be replaced by a bigger, more modern home, less than 3 kilometers (2 mi.) from President Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Sagamore Hill.

The contract for the demolition was awarded to LaFata Contracting Corp. of Massapequa, NY, for approximately $55,000. Previously, LaFata had used a crane with a wrecking ball or a bucket for demolition, but this site did not afford the room to swing the ball, nor does a ball have close control over debris and where it falls.

The company’s owner, Vince LaFata had seen many ads and articles about grapples, he called Bodine Mfg. and inquired about the advantages of a grapple. When LaFata heard that for this demolition job a grapple could work six times faster than a bucket, and would afford him the ability to demolish, compact, and load in one smooth continuous motion, he asked for the name of his closest dealer.

Nick DiNapoli of Iron Horse Equipment in Commack, NY, met with LaFata and the deal was made. A heavy-duty grapple to fit LaFata’s 32,205-kilogram (71,000 lb.) hydraulic excavator, was delivered in eight days in time to commence the contract on Oct. 5. Even though he had never operated a grapple, LaFata completed the house demolition portion of the contract in three days, demolishing the 1,115-square-meter (12,000 sq. ft.) home, loading 40, 27-meter (30 yd.) containers with the debris, and cleaning the site. As part of the cleanup, LaFata was hired to remove the Olympic-sized swimming pool which he was able to do, primarily with the grapple, much faster than with a bucket. And LaFata was able to cut transportation costs by trucking in just the excavator, not the crane with wrecking ball.

Vince LaFata’s father started Ace Cesspool Co. in the 1950s with one pump-out truck. Following his death in 1960, Vince took over and expanded to excavating. In 1972, he switched his emphasis to commercial and renamed the firm LaFata Excavating, adding backhoes and loaders. From there, it was a move to general contracting and demolition and its present name. Still a family business, today LaFata employs 11 people, with a bit more equipment than one cesspool pump-out truck.

“This grapple is the ’Pac-Man of the Demo World.’ I don’t know how I got along without it,” LaFata said.

Even though LaFata never heard of Castroviejo or his “mini-grapple” forceps, he and others like him are finding many uses for the “forceps” of the demolition business.

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