'Partial Collapse' of Crumbling Tribeca Landmark Leads to Violations

Firefighters blocked off the sidewalk around a collapsed roll-down gate at 502 Canal Street. In the background are representatives from Ponte Equities, including property manager John Mele, second from left. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

The owners of a crumbling, 194-year-old Tribeca landmark were cited by the city Wednesday for failing to maintain their property following a "partial collapse" of the facade.

A seven-foot-high roll-down gate of 502 Canal Street fell to the sidewalk, taking a small portion of the building's wall with it. "Primarily it was the gate that fell away from the wall," said a spokesman for the Fire Department, which responded to the scene. There were no injuries.

The DOB issued two violations to the owner, Ponte Equities, following the incident.

The three-story building, which wraps around to Greenwich Street and also has the address of 480 Greenwich St., is a city-designated landmark built in 1818-1819. Its condition has been a source of concern among preservationists and neighbors for many years. A construction shed, which appears to be at least partially supporting the facade, has been in place for as long as neighbors can remember.

In 2010, the Landmarks Preservation Commission threatened to file suit against Ponte Equities, claiming "demolition by neglect." In response, Ponte hired an architecture and engineering firm to come up with plans to restore the building. But there has been no visible sign of work since then and last November, two years later, the Landmarks Commission again threatened to take action against Ponte and again the owners filed plans with the Landmarks Commission and the Department of Buildings.  Once more, no suit was filed because the owner "demonstrat[ed] that he planned to make the necessary repairs to stabilize the building, and filed an application for a permit to do the work," Landmarks spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said in an email last month. The Landmarks permit was issued on Nov. 19. But the Department of Buildings rejected the plans.

Standing outside the building Wednesday, John Mele, property manager for Ponte Equities, said the company has been working to come up with approved plans but "this [incident] is going to make it go faster."

"We're spending a lot of money to restore it," Mele said, rejecting accusations by neighbors that the owner is purposely neglecting the building and allowing it to collapse.

"That's not in our interest," he said. "We would have to rebuild it."

Asked why it has taken so long to restore the building he said that Ponte, which owns at least 30 buildings in the neighborhood, according the Real Deal, has many properties to look after.

Mele said the company's planned restoration of 502 Canal Street is part of a three-building residential project that includes the two contiguous buildings to the west, 504 and 506 Canal Street. Those three buildings, along with 508 Canal Street, are called by the Landmarks Commission "a rare surviving cluster of early 19th-century buildings.”

The building was one of nine in Manhattan deemed structurally unsafe and “red tagged” after Hurricane Sandy.

In October, the DOB sent an emergency response team to the building and issued a violation to the owners after reports that there were “serious cracks/gaps in the brickwork” and a metal gate was falling off the building.

A few months earlier, in July 2012, the DOB issued a violation to the owners for failure to maintain a sidewalk shed, after a complaint was lodged that the wall along Canal Street was crumbling and part of it had fallen onto the sidewalk.

Robert Verdier, who lives next door to the building at 474 Greenwich St., has long been calling on the Landmarks Commission to help protect the building.

"Part of the reason that I live down here and a lot of folks live down here is the neighborhood character," he said. "And it's historic buildings like that that give the neighborhood its soul."