Fire Rips Through Red Hook’s Historic Bowne Storehouse After Call for Landmarking

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Thursday night, a fire tore through the former S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, located at 595-611 Smith Street in Red Hook.

The blaze started around 11:15 p.m., and no injuries were reported, according to ABC7 News. As of this writing, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

A visit to the site this morning revealed part of the roof is gone but the walls of the building are still standing.

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Firefighters on the scene this morning

In recent weeks, workers have been spotted at the site, leading nearby residents to wonder if the owner, well-known real estate developer Meyer Chetrit, might be planning to demolish the building.

In May, locals renewed a call to landmark the building and filed a request for evaluation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

On Wednesday, a group of concerned locals met with City Council Member Carlos Menchaca to request his support to landmark the building, a resident told Brownstoner this morning. The councilman’s office notified Chetrit of the proposal not long before the fire broke out, according to another member of the group.

Last month, a neighbor told Brownstoner a worker on the site claimed the owner plans to demolish the structure and replace it with apartments. For that to happen, the property would have to be rezoned to allow residential.

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In September 2017, the owner applied for a permit to demolish a one-story structure on the property, but that permit has not yet been issued, DOB records show. Earlier this year, Chetrit demolished three of four buildings on the property — non-historic one-story structures. Then in late April and early May, workers removed debris and “wood beams” from inside the warehouse, according to a reader.

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The fire comes at a time when the city is moving to rezone nearby Gowanus. City Planning earlier this month released a draft planning and land use framework study of Gowanus, a precursor to a rezoning proposal, but the study area did not include 595 Smith Street.

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The roof on May 14.

The property has a history of complaints of poor maintenance, illegal dumping and dangerous conditions. In 2014, the DOB issued a full vacate order for the entire property because a wall on one of the structures was in danger of collapse. In 2016, the DOB received a complaint of “excessive debris throughout warehouse” and ordered the owner to “vacate warehouse for illegal dumping of 1500 cubic yards of combustible c and d debris and asbestos.”

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A man hacking away at the roof of the S.W. Bowne Storehouse on May 18. Photo via Brad Vogel

Built in 1886, the unprotected brick warehouse is a remnant from a time when the warehouses of Red Hook and Gowanus were at the center of a thriving shipping industry that brought in, stored and shipped goods all over the world. The property is part of a Gowanus Historic District that was declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, but not yet listed.

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The building in May

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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