Within seconds, three fire trucks and ambulances and police cars went screaming past us, heading in the direction of Brooklyn.
Everyone looked at each other. We all knew this was different, that this had to be something serious. And when traffic on the avenue came to a standstill, we knew it had to be something close. So we started walking over.
“A building just collapsed,” someone passing by us said.
“Is anyone hurt?” I asked, but he shrugged and said he didn’t know.
It was a surreal scene that awaited us at 79th Street and Jamaica Avenue. The roof and side of the corner building had collapsed, dropping a few tons of water and debris on to the sidewalk.
Miraculously, especially given the time and how busy the avenue was, no one was injured.
This building had been a furniture store and it sat directly next door to the headquarters of the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which also doubled as the cozy home for the Woodhaven Senior Center.
This had been one of Woodhaven’s feel-good stories, how our elected officials came together to secure funding for the WRHVAC so the necessary modifications could be made for the seniors.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that collapse proved fatal to the Ambulance Corps. Their building was attached to that corner property and sustained significant damage itself.
Within a few days, 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.”
The city knew about this for months and took zero action to make sure the people of Woodhaven were safe. The city did nothing but sit back and watch this tragedy unfold.
For months afterwards, the building sat there without a roof, the inside gutted. The Ambulance Corp was flooded and, over time, it wasn’t safe to even enter that building without masks on because of the mold.
And still the city did nothing. We had meeting after meeting, we talked to our elected officials, we talked to the Buildings Department.
We were told that the building would have to be torn down. One time, we were told it was being torn down the next morning.
But the owner had a good lawyer and a friendly judge and, together, they made sure this building was protected.
In a city where we can’t even get a historical gem like Neir’s landmarked, our city protected this half-collapsed 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 eight years.
We held rallies, the city did nothing. We spoke to the press, the city did nothing.
Our city acts like uninvolved spectators unless there’s a way to stick it to the small business owners, then they’re all over the place, eager to dole out fines and punishment.
In recent weeks there has been some activity at this property. The wooden walls and the sidewalk shed have been replaced.
It goes up for auction in February, and while we’re hopeful that someone will purchase it and end this long, sad story, we find it hard to be optimistic.
Permits have been filed for a new building at 84-14 Jamaica Avenue (a few doors down from the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association), where there is currently a laundromat and a Taekwondo school.
That building will be torn down and replaced with a seven-story building with 40-plus apartments. And once we have one, there will be another. And another.
But hey, at least the city cracked down on signs and awnings. Well done New York City, very well done indeed.