Twice Hit by Fire, Fulton St. Building Is Coming Down

Smoke billows from two floors of 140 Fulton Street the morning of Sunday, March 17. Photo courtesy of Chiara Wood.

Apr. 01, 2013

A commercial building on Fulton Street, heavily damaged by two fires within the span of 24 hours, is being demolished.

The city-ordered demolition began on March 25, barely a week after a four-alarm blaze struck the five-story building at 140 Fulton Street in the early morning of March 17, only to be ignited again the next day. One firefighter suffered minor injuries while battling the second fire. No other injuries were reported.

Faulty electrical wiring caused the first fire, and smoldering embers from that fire led to the second blaze, according to a Fire Department investigation.

The DOB determined that the building, its interior all but destroyed, must be torn down. Caruso’s Pizza & Pasta, a popular eatery, occupied the ground floor.

“The building will have to be demolished due to significant damage from the fire,” said city Department of Buildings spokeswoman Gloria Chin. The work will continue for “a few weeks,” she said.

Peter An, the manager of Café To­mato, on the ground floor of 142 Fulton, was forced to close temporarily. He estimates his losses at approximately $5,000 for each day his place is not open. “I employ 20 people in my store,” he said. “They need to work to make money.”

The fires also caused the evacuation of a five-family co-op at 138 Fulton, which shares a party wall with 140 Fulton. The residents have moved out indefinitely; they’ll be allowed back in sometime after the completion of the demolition.

“Once we aren’t out anymore, we’re going to have to fix up the inside of our apartment,” said Salvo Stoch, whose second-floor apartment sustained heavy water and other damage when firefighters broke through his wall to battle the blaze next door.

Guy Morris, who owns the ground-floor condominium at 138 Fulton, said his building was “structurally okay” and that the city had hired Russo Demolition to dismantle 140 Fulton. The company didn’t return a call for comment.

“Their goal is to maintain the integrity of our building while demolishing it,” he said. “We’ve hired a structural engineer to assess that and monitor what effect [the demolition] would have, independently.”

The building at 140 Fulton has a history of violations, with nine deemed “im­mediately hazardous” or “major” since 2010. All but two violations re­main open, according to the DOB’s website.

The building’s ownership is listed as Fulton Associates LLC. Neighbors say the owner is Century Realty, its address listed as 140 Fulton St. Century Realty has ties to the Gindi family, which owns the nearby Century 21 department store. A call to Kenneth Dubow, who oversees the Gindi family’s real estate holdings, was not returned.

Nearly 170 firefighters responded to the first fire, a four-alarm that was reported around 7 a.m. Sunday and brought under control two-and-a-half hours later. Twelve-year-old Bennett Wood anxiously awakened his parents when he smelled smoke in the family’s third-floor apartment at 138 Fulton.

“Our whole apartment was filled with black smoke,” Bennett’s father, Ed Wood, said. “We woke up everybody [in the building] and called 911.”

As the Woods and their neighbors left their homes, 140 Fulton was engulfed in flames. Firefighters broke through walls of the building to douse the fire, but did not extinguish it all, according to the Fire Department report.

The second blaze started around 2 a.m. on Monday, March 18. Firefighters were ordered out of the building after a partial collapse of the roof and fears of a total collapse of the structure, an FDNY spokesman said.

“It could have been a hell of a lot more dangerous had it happened in the middle of the night and the smoke crept to where people were sleeping,” Stoch said of the 7 a.m. fire that led to his and his neighbors’ evacuation.