Red Hook

Elected officials call for preservation of S.W. Bowne building in Red Hook

July 10, 2019 Lore Croghan
Elected officials are calling for the preservation of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Elected officials are calling for a halt to the demolition of a historic industrial building on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

U.S. Rep Nydia Velazquez and City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca sent a letter to Joseph Chetrit asking him to give “full and fair consideration” to their constituents’ pleas to preserve the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse — and to phone the elected officials’ staff members to discuss the matter.

The 1880s building is “the most visible 19th-century warehouse on the Gowanus Canal” and is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the July 5 letter to the Chetrit Group says.

The four-story storehouse is at 595 Smith St. on the Red Hook end of the canal.

The city Buildings Department issued a demolition permit for the building in February. Workers have torn down the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse’s roof and part of the wall on its south end. But demolition has been temporarily halted by a Stop Work Order the Buildings Department issued on June 27 for safety violations.

On Tuesday, in compliance with that order, there was no demolition being done at the site when I stopped by for a visit.

From March through early May, there was also a hiatus in the demolition because of another Stop Work Order.

Part of the roof was already missing even before demolition began because of a two-alarm June 2018 fire that the FDNY says was “deliberately set.”

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‘The Empire State Building of the Gowanus Canal’

Velazquez and Menchaca’s letter says that because the city Planning Department is considering rezoning the canal area and the Landmarks Preservation Commission is focused on it, too, “it is important that as much of the area’s unique history is preserved as possible.”

There’s a Stop Work Order at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, so no demolition can be done at this moment. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
There’s a Stop Work Order at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, so no demolition can be done at this moment. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Their letter calls the Gowanus Canal area “a significant piece of New York’s maritime industrial history” and says the canal helped transform Brooklyn into one of America’s fastest-growing cities.

Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff told the Brooklyn Eagle that preservationists are “very encouraged” by the support from Velazquez and Menchaca.

“We hope that with their advocacy, a positive resolution for and reuse of this important historic building can be attained,” Bankoff said.

“The Bowne Storehouse is the Empire State Building of the Gowanus Canal. It’s a true landmark for the area and must be retained and repaired,” he added.

The Historic Districts Council is a member of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, which has been leading a campaign to save the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse.

‘A solution that respects our local communities’

A spokesperson for the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition told the Eagle the Bowne building “should be retained to help tell the story of maritime commerce in Brooklyn” because it is “one of the last structures of its kind remaining along the Gowanus Canal.”

The group called on the property owner to meet with elected officials “to devise a solution that respects our local communities,” the spokesperson said.

The Bowne building was constructed in the 1880s as a processing site for hay, feed and grain for New York City’s horses.

The Chetrit Group bought the building in 2007 as part of a package of properties for which it paid $14.5 million, city Finance Department records indicate.

Chetrit Group executives did not respond to a request for comment about Velazquez and Menchaca’s letter.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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