The building at the corner of 79th Street and Jamaica Avenue, which collapsed in April 2013 and has been a dangerous health hazard ever since, will soon be nothing more than a bad memory.
The building was home to a furniture store and sat next door to the headquarters of the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which also doubled as the cozy home of the Woodhaven Senior Center.
The collapse happened on a busy Friday night, with tons of bricks crashing to the sidewalk, flattening a vehicle. Miraculously, no one was injured. It’s fair to say that we were all counting our blessings.
A week after the collapse, the column I wrote for the Leader had the headline “An inconvenience, but not a tragedy.”
“The best estimate right now is that we are looking at weeks, not months, before our seniors will be back in their familiar home,” I wrote at the time. “Meanwhile, the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps also considers itself lucky.”
Gosh, that was optimistic, wasn’t it? The seniors never returned to their home and the collapse proved fatal to the Ambulance Corps.
Over time, a clearer picture emerged of a neglectful owner who, on the day of the collapse, had 31 open complaints from the Department of Buildings on the property. One of the open complaints, from just a few months before the collapse actually stated: “The ceiling and wall are cracked and could fall.”
In the end, the collapse was caused by a clogged drainpipe that led to the roof filling up like a swimming pool, causing that cracked ceiling and wall to fall.
The city knew about this. They knew about this for months and took zero action to make sure the people of Woodhaven were safe.
For months afterwards, the building sat there without a roof, the inside gutted. The Ambulance Corps was flooded and, over time, it wasn’t safe to even enter that building without masks on because of the mold.
We held rallies. We held fundraisers for the Corps. We met with our elected officials and we badgered representatives for the Department of Buildings at local meetings.
Several times, it was announced that the building was coming down. And each time, something got in the way. The story gets real convoluted after that, but it went to the courts. Time and time again, the judge granted the building owner more time.
But more time to do what? The property became a magnet for garbage, graffiti and urine. The roof was never replaced. That corner was not only an eyesore, but a symbol of the failures that our city is capable of.
In a city where we can’t even get a historical gem like Neir’s landmarked, our city went to great lengths to protect this half-collapsed stain of a building.
Businesses throughout Woodhaven were being harassed by the city over their signs and awnings, all of which were perfectly safe. They fined and punished good business owners while they protected this garbage-strewn, dangerous eyesore of a building for nearly nine years.
And now, it appears as if this aggravating saga is coming to an end. My source on this, whom I will only refer to as JB, tells me that the person in charge of the demolition says it will take two to three weeks to complete.
“Workers are on-site preparing to take the building down in sections,” JB told me via text. “They need to work with the MTA to get the trains to go by slow at certain times.”
We will all be relieved when this building finally comes down and hope that something nice replaces it. We deserve that. The residents who have had to live close to that mess for nine years deserve it most of all.
Let’s pray that our optimism doesn’t go unfounded once again.