A spokesman for building owner Jared Kushner, of the Kushner Co., said that before the collapse the owner initially had planned to rehabilitate the building, which had been vacant for six months, and one next to it.
Then, two days ago, bricks began falling from the building, spokesman Howard Rubenstein said. Engineers for the company visited the site, deemed the buildings unsafe and contacted city buildings officials to get permission to begin demolishing them on Wednesday, Rubenstein said.
The partial collapse occurred while inspectors from the buildings and fire departments were at the site, he said.
Demolition of the buildings was under way Tuesday evening, Rubenstein said.
The fire department asked the Metro-North Railroad to halt its trains around 3:15 p.m. out of concern about vibrations, railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
About 270,000 people on average ride Metro-North trains every weekday between New York and its northern suburbs.
Anders said the trains were stopped at stations so passengers could get off if they wished. They were advised to use the subways to connect to Metro-North stations in the Bronx.
By around 5 p.m., announcements at Grand Central Terminal indicated some train service was being restored, but there were lengthy delays.
The collapse occurred near 124th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem, a block away from a Metro-North station.
The Department of Buildings visited the property six times in the past year when residents called to complain about falling debris. The owner, listed on city records as Harlem 100-124 Associates, was cited with violations four times since 2005 for cracks in the walls, according to city records.