RED HOOK – The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition sent out a notice over the weekend showing photos of demolition scaffolding going up around the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse building at 595 Smith Street, a 133-year-old structure that was damaged by a suspicious fire last summer.
“This despite multiple existing stop work orders for the whole site and DOB [NYC Department of Buildings] summons posted on site as of March 5, 2019,” the Coalition’s notice states. “And despite the fact that the arsonist still has not been identified.”
According to an FDNY representative Monday morning, the June 14, 2018 fire at the site is still under investigation, however it has been “determined to be an incendiary fire.”
The four-story brick structure was built in 1886, according to the Coalition, and was used as a shipping warehouse for grain until the 1960s. The Chetrit Group purchased the building for $14.5 million in 2007, according to Property Shark. The Coalition has requested that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission [LPC] consider designating the building an individual landmark based on its “architectural uniqueness” and its place in Gowanus/Red Hook’s maritime history.
The S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is one of several historic structures in the Gowanus/Red Hook area that the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition requested LPC consider for landmark status during a May 2018 press event. A week before the press conference, Coalition member Brad Vogel witnessed a worker using an axe to tear off the shingles from the roof of the Bowne Grain Storehouse. He notified City Council Member Carlos Menchaca whose District 38 covers Red Hook.
The Storehouse building went up in flames two weeks following the Coalition’s press event. In response to the fire, Council Member Menchaca released a statement calling the incident “highly suspicious,” adding that the blaze “occurred after the Red Hook community raised alarms about recent, potentially illegal construction activity on the roof and after my office and community leaders took steps to start landmarking the building.”
The Council Member requested that the FDNY fully disclose to the public its findings on the cause of the fire at the Bowne warehouse and called on DOB to conduct a “thorough review of permits and violations at the site and to hold the owner accountable for a long series of irresponsible activities there.”
Menchaca also put the building’s developer, the Chetrit Group, on notice, stating, “I will not allow demolition by neglect or fire to prompt zoning changes that allow residential or other non-manufacturing uses at this site in Red Hook’s Industrial Business Zone.”
DOB granted a demolition permit for the building February 7, 2019, however, as a photo provided by the Coalition shows, a Stop Work Order was issued for the “Entire Job Site” on March 5, 2019.
The Coalition notes that some demolition has taken place over the past few weeks, including the removal of the southern section of building’s roof (see below photo). “The building is now at risk of being lost entirely after standing since the 1880s,” the Coalition said.
“Losing this building would be a regrettable shame,” the Coalition insists. “We call on Council Member Carlos Menchaca, the Department of Buildings, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to prevent the destruction of this iconic building.” The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition is offering a reward for information leading to an arrest in the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse fire.
“This news is disturbing, given our understanding that the FDNY investigation is still ongoing and the community has expressed interest in preserving the warehouse,” a spokesperson for Council Member Menchaca said in response to the Coalition’s notice. “Something is off here and we are going to contact the FDNY and DOB to understand what’s happening on their end. Our commitment to preserving the warehouse has not wavered.”