Red Hook

Landlord could face criminal summons for construction violations at Red Hook warehouse

Activists are fighting the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse's demolition

March 13, 2019 Lore Croghan
Preservationists raise a cheer for the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse with City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (center). Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

The city Buildings Department might slap the landlord of a historic Red Hook building with a criminal court summons for ignoring its directives.

The agency “has issued several violations to the building owner already for failure to comply with a DOB-issued Stop Work Order,” DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky told the Brooklyn Eagle about the Chetrit Group, which owns the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse.

“If the property owner continues to disregard DOB orders, we may take enhanced enforcement actions, including possibly issuing a criminal court summons,” Rudansky said.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca spread the news about the possible criminal court summons at a Wednesday press conference about the 1880s property, which the Chetrit Group had begun to demolish before being hit with multiple Stop Work Orders in recent days.

Menchaca, who supports a community activists’ campaign to win city landmark designation for the 595 Smith St. storehouse, called on fellow councilmembers to “wake up and join us in this fight.”

During Menchaca’s first City Council term, the Chetrit Group showed him a development plan for the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse site that consisted of residential towers, he said.

When Menchaca asked for a revised plan that would take into account the property’s location in an industrial area, the Chetrit Group showed him a residential development design with a couple floors of manufacturing space, he said.

An executive at the Chetrit Group did not respond to the Eagle’s request for comment.

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The company bought a package of properties that included the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse for $14.5 million in 2007, city Finance Department records indicate.

Community activists are calling for landmarking for the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Community activists are calling for landmarking for the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A vow to be vigilant

The Chetrit Group has halted demolition work at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse at this moment. But Brad Vogel of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition said the group will keep close watch on what goes on at the property.

“Some member of our coalition is going to check the building every day,” he told the Eagle.

The S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, which is on the shoreline of the Gowanus Canal, made headlines in June 2018 because of a two-alarm blaze. FDNY spokesperson Jim Long told the Eagle on March 11 it was an “incendiary fire” that was “deliberately set.”

The fire department’s investigation of the conflagration continues.

The fire damaged the south half of the warehouse’s roof and fourth floor.

“What we’ve already lost at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is tragic,” journalist and book author Joseph Alexiou told the Eagle. “But the fact that there’s any roof left at all suggests to me it’s still worth preserving.”

This isn’t the first time preservationists have tried to get the Bowne building landmarked. The Society for Industrial Archaeology asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to give the property that protected status in 2009.

Samuel Winter Bowne was an independent entrepreneur, while most other grain storages companies of yesteryear merged into an entity called the Brooklyn Wharf and Warehouse Company in the late 1890s, a posting on the Red Hook WaterStories website notes.

Bowne’s storehouse became a warehouse for general goods by the 1930s because of the diminishing use of horse-drawn vehicles in New York City. It’s “one of the few distinctly 19th-century structures” remaining on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, the Red Hook WaterStories posting says.

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