Preservation Issues

Tour of Empire Stores Reveals Conditions Inside Long-vacant Buildings

A Tour Inside the Empire Stores

Empire Stores

Empire Stores - Steel Columns

Empire Stores

Empire Stores

Empire Stores

August 2, 2012

The Conservancy’s Alex Herrera took part in a tour of the interiors of the Empire Stores organized by Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP). The August 2 tour opened up two of the vacant buildings. Participants were allowed to inspect the first and second stories.

The tour was arranged for the benefit of the Community Advisory Council (CAC) which was formed as part of the settlement of the recent lawsuit. The City is seeking to convert the Empire Stores and the adjacent Tobacco Warehouse to private ownership.

The first building, near the north end of the complex, featured brick pavement on the ground floor. The condition inside the building was dry and evidence of past structural repairs were evident. Among these where repairs, visible from below, to several second story floor joists. Climbing the open timber stair to the second floor revealed similar dry conditions. The heavy structural timberwork is intact although the original wood plank flooring was badly deteriorated and unsafe to walk on. There were white stains on some of the timbers indicating dry rot at some point in history.

The second building entered, towards the southern portion of the complex, is narrower than the first. The buildings are not uniform in width. Here there was evidence of more structural intervention. This building was built with wooden plank flooring on the ground story, which has largely disintegrated due to the fact that the planks seem to be directly on the sandy soil. About 20% of the timber columns on the ground story were replaced with steel columns on concrete footings (see photo). Regina Myer, Executive Director of BBP, who arranged the tour, did not know when these repairs were made. They predate her tenure at the Park.

Among the most striking features of the interiors are the stone sidewalls. The buildings are brick on the exterior but the interior walls are Brooklyn schist. Several vertical cracks were visible on these walls as well as on the exterior walls. It was impossible to tell whether the cracks are old or new.

The overall impression of the interiors was one of tremendous space –and possibilities-even given the neglected condition of the property.

The Conservancy has long championed the preservation of these historic structures and was co-plaintiff in a Federal case that found that the City initially failed to follow the legal procedure for converting parkland to private use. We are monitoring the steps in the process required to transfer the structures legally to private owners. We will continue to keep a close watch on all future proposals and do all we can to ensure that the historic character of the complex is respected and that the buildings are restored properly.