There were no injuries reported after the crane hit a 23rd-story ledge of a mixed-use building on Maiden Lane, three blocks from Wall Street, the Fire Department of New York said. Part of the lower Manhattan building's facade broke off and fell into the street, police Lt. John Grimpel said.
The crane was part of a construction project at a three-way intersection about half a block from the struck building. The base of the crane was on the other side of the street from the building, and the crane was leaning across the street onto the building, firefighters said.
A neighboring building's porter, Jose Hernandez, said he heard a crashing sound.
"When the crane fell, it went 'Boom!' and rocks fell," he said.
At least six fire trucks responded to the area. Some traffic was diverted, and streets were closed.
The struck building and two buildings next to it were evacuated as a precaution, police said. The buildings are in the Financial District, but the struck building is partly residential and another building is primarily residential; the other building is primarily commercial.
Area resident Michael Britto said he was leaving his building with a friend Saturday night when police told them to get out of the area because the crane was falling.
"The crane was swaying," he said.
Maiden Lane runs east to west, parallel to Wall Street, from near the South Street Seaport to lower Broadway near the World Trade Center site.
One of the evacuated buildings, at 100 Maiden Lane, is an art deco residential tower in the heart of the Seaport area with views of landmark buildings and the East and Hudson rivers. It's not far from the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
A resident there, Erica Scheisawa, said she was at home when firefighters told her a crane had hit a building next door and she had to get out.
"They said that the building that got hit by the crane might collapse into our building," she said.
New York has been blighted by crane accidents the last few years. On Tuesday, the city's former chief crane inspector admitted taking more than $10,000 in payoffs to fake inspection and crane operator licensing exam results over nearly a decade.
The inspector, James Delayo, was arrested days after the second of two huge cranes collapsed, killing nine people, in 2008. The charges against him weren't tied to the collapses, but authorities portrayed the case as one in a series to go after builders and inspectors accused of shortchanging safety for profit.
Police said they didn't know what caused the crane to tilt on Saturday. Some area residents said they had seen a type of wrecking ball swinging from the crane under windy conditions, but the National Weather Service said winds in the area were only about 8 mph at the time.