‘Rare’ Crumbling Tribeca Buildings May Finally Be Saved

Scaffolding has been attached to 502 Canal/480 Greenwich St. for more than 10 years.
Carl Glassman / Tribeca Trib
Scaffolding has been attached to 502 Canal/480 Greenwich St. for more than 10 years.

Scaffolding has darkened the decrepit ground floor of 502 Canal Street as long as anyone in the area can remember. The windows are gone and, around them, lintels and sills have crumbled away. The building leans precariously.


Such conditions hardly befit a 191-year-old city-designated landmark and the anchor of a rare and historic row of early 18th-century buildings.


“In the time I’ve been living here, over 20 years,” said Bruce Ehrmann, co-chair of Community Board’s Landmarks Com­mittee, “I’ve watched the building just completely disintegrate.”


For more than two years, the owners, Ponte Equities, failed to take action in response to letters from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Com­mission warned of a lawsuit and huge fines if the owner did not reverse the “advanced state of deterioration” to 502 Canal Street and the landmark they own next to it, 504 Canal Street.


Finally, in November, Ponte applied to the commission to begin preliminary work on the building, and last month permission was granted, according to Landmarks Commission spokeswoman, Elisabeth de Bourbon.


“The owner is working in good faith to see to it that the buildings are preserved and will last another 170 years,” de Bourbon said.

Ponte hired SRA Architecture and Engineering and preservation consultants Higgins and Quaisbarth to do the job. Ed Carroll and Cas Stachelberg, from the two firms respectively, said they could not comment on the work because plans are not far enough along.


Had Ponte ignored the most recent warning letter, de Bourbon said, the commission could have filed a “demolition by neglect” suit, claiming the owner willfully tried to destroy the properties. A call to John Mele, property manager for Ponte Equities, was not returned.


Major repairs are required to windows, brickwork and brownstone on the façade of 502 Canal.
Carl Glassman / Tribeca Trib
Major repairs are required to windows, brickwork and brownstone on the façade of 502 Canal.

Madeline Lanciani, a tenant on the third floor of 504 Canal Street, said in an interview that she doesn’t worry about the building’s stability. But she noted that the roof leaks “terribly” into the attic that is converted into bedrooms, causing the walls and ceiling to chip off.


“They patched the roof over the years and addressed leaks here and there, but leaks pop up everywhere,” she said.


Not long before the recession struck, Lanciani said, she and other tenants were called to meet with owner Vincent Ponte over his plan, since aborted, to move them into a building he would put up on nearby Renwick Street while he renovated the properties into luxury condos.


Both 504 and 502 Canal are part of what the Landmarks Commission calls a “rare surviving cluster of early 19th century buildings” that also in­cludes 506 and 508 Canal Street. They are, says the landmarks designation re­port “a striking reminder of the initial phase of the development of New York City.”


Construction of 502 Canal Street, which rounds the corner and includes 480 Greenwich Street, began in 1818, the year that a trench running down the center of today’s Canal Street was covered over, creating a single wide road. The two western-most buildings in the row, 506 and 508, were built together in 1826. The last of the four, 504, went up in about 1840.


“I wish they would do something about these buildings,” Lanciani said of 502 and 504 Canal. “Not only because I live here but because they’re cool buildings and they need to be preserved.”