Red Hook

Demolition resumes at Red Hook’s S.W. Bowne building, sparking fury

August 26, 2019 Lore Croghan
The south half of Red Hook’s S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse has been mostly torn down. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Nearly half of a historic Red Hook industrial building that activists and politicians have been trying to save has been torn down.

The Chetrit Group has moved swiftly to demolish the four-story S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse in recent days, after the city Buildings Department gave the developer permission to do so.

The city agency rescinded a Stop Work Order on Aug. 21 that had been in effect since June 27 at the property at 595 Smith St. on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. The order had been issued because of “unsafe demolition” at the site, according to online records.

Preservation advocates are furious.

“This is a crime against the community,” Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “There is no reason the city should allow these owners to demolish this historic building.”

As of Monday morning, most of the south half of the building was gone. An excavator with a giant, jawlike appendage called a grapple was taking big bites out of the building’s brick façade on the Smith Street side of the property.

Until the Stop Work Order was rescinded, the remaining facade of the building facing the Hamilton Avenue Bridge had been three floors tall.

A small section of the wall on the south half of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is still standing on the morning of Aug. 26. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
A small section of the wall on the south half of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is still standing on the morning of Aug. 26. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“A quick stroll around Red Hook or DUMBO shows how shortsighted it is to demolish irreplaceable waterfront architecture along the Gowanus Canal — when it can be repurposed and still retain a real sense of place,” a spokesperson for the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition said in a statement.

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“Brooklyn can do better. And as development continues to ramp up across the borough, it must do better,” the spokesperson added. “Or we stand to lose any lingering sense of authenticity.”

The group called on elected officials to save the still-standing north half of the building.

The Chetrit Group has owned the 1880s brick and timber S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse — or what’s left of it — since 2007. The developer bought it as part of a $14.5 million multi-property purchase, city Finance Department records indicate.

Preservation advocates began campaigning in 2018 to win city landmark designation for the Bowne building, which would have barred the developer from demolishing it.

This excavator with a grapple is busy at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse on the morning of Aug. 26. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This excavator with a grapple is busy at the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse on the morning of Aug. 26. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca in July sent a joint letter to property owner Joseph Chetrit asking that he give “full and fair consideration” to activists’ pleas that the building be preserved.

The storehouse constructed by entrepreneur Samuel Winter Bowne played a vital role in Brooklyn’s economic development.

It is “the most visible 19th-century warehouse on the Gowanus Canal” and is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the elected officials’ letter said.

The Chetrit Group originally received a demolition permit from the Buildings Department in February. The work of tearing down the property was halted between March and early May because of an earlier Stop Work Order.

In July, when a Stop Work Order was in effect, the south facade of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse stood three floors high. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
In July, when a Stop Work Order was in effect, the south facade of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse stood three floors high. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The historic grain storehouse was damaged before demolition work began.

In June 2018, it took 25 FDNY units and more than 100 firefighters more than an hour to get a two-alarm fire at the Bowne building under control. An FDNY spokesperson later told the Eagle the “incendiary” fire was “deliberately set.”

The fire damaged the south half of the building’s roof and fourth floor. There was no evidence any substances were used to accelerate the fire, and there are no suspects at this time in connection with it, an FDNY spokesperson told the Eagle on Monday.

The S.W. Bowne Storehouse’s owner hasn’t announced its plans for the property. But Councilmember Menchaca revealed earlier this year that during his first City Council term, the Chetrit Group showed him a development plan that consisted of residential towers.

Executives at the Chetrit Group did not respond on Monday to the Eagle’s query about their plans.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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