BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Hold that wrecking ball!
Although the city says that a Little Italy building damaged last week by illegal construction must be demolished, the family that owns the property says the historic structure can be saved.
The building’s landlord is Stabile Realty, LLC.
Following the construction accident, the Stabile family, which has owned property in Little Italy for generations, had an independent engineer inspect 188 Grand St. The engineer reportedly concluded that it was a shockingly bad decision by the city — in fact, the worst he had seen in his career — and that the building does not need to be razed but can “easily and safely be saved.”
Andrew Bench, a family representative, told The Village Sun that the section that collapsed was an old interior chimney within the building’s wall on Mulberry Street. Because it was a chimney space, the bricks there were thinner — only two bricks thick, as opposed to four thick.
The second floor did not collapse, contrary to what Karen King, owner of Alleva Dairy, the former commercial tenant there, said in a statement afterward, according to Bench.
“It’s just the chimney that collapsed,” he explained.
Bench, who is a lawyer, is the district attorney of Allentown, Pennsylvania. He’s one of four principals of four related families that today hold an ownership stake in Stabile Realty LLC. The family has owned the four-story building at Grand and Mulberry Streets for more than 100 years.
Bench said that because local residents are protesting the Department of Buildings’ order to raze the building, it has, in turn, inspired the Stabile descendants to push back against the decision. The landlord would be required to pay for the emergency demolition, regardless of whether it’s contracted by the landlord or the city.
The Rust Belt D.A. admitted that the family owners of the realty LLC previously had been “pretty much resolved to the fate that the building had to go the way the city said [be demolished] — even though we don’t believe that [has to be done].”
But the local resistance changed their minds.
“The Department of Buildings ordered the demolition of that building,” he said. “Quite a lot of people in Little Italy don’t want it. We’re going to try to save this building if we can.”
Local activists reportedly plan to hold a protest at the site on Tuesday morning around 9 a.m.
The ground-floor space was formerly home to Alleva Dairy, America’s oldest cheese shop, for more than 80 years. Alleva vacated the place back in March after reaching a settlement over back rent owed from the COVID slowdown period.
According to Bench, in July, Stabile Realty LLC then leased the space to Amici Restaurant Group, which operates other eateries in Little Italy, with the stated plan being to install a restaurant there. He said, however, the lease terms clearly state that the construction plans must be approved by the city first before any work can take place. He said the landlord did a walk-through of the space in October, noticed that renovation work was already going on, and ordered that it be halted. However, he said, the tenant continued doing illegal work.
According to D.O.B., the wall collapse was caused by illegal and unauthorized renovation work for which proper permits from the city had not been obtained.
Bench confirmed that Stabile Realty LLC will be bringing a lawsuit, though did not want to go into more detail about it in print in The Village Sun at this point.
Stabile historically owned a large chunk of the heart of Little Italy and was once a prominent name that everyone in the community knew.
“We’ve been in that community 160 years and we don’t want to go anywhere,” Bench said. “Stabile Realty at one point owned two blocks of Little Italy.”
In the 1800s, Stabile was an agent, arranging steamship passage to New York City for Italian immigrants, as well as a landlord, putting the new arrivals up in its own housing. The company also offered Banca Stabile, for them to deposit their money. The former bank space is now the Italian American Museum, at 151 Grand St.
Today, from its once-sweeping holdings, the family owns just two buildings in the historic neighborhood, having sold the rest off over the years. The upper floors of 188 Grand St. are occupied by The Farm Soho, a co-working office space; Bench said there were people in there during the late-afternoon, weekday partial building collapse, though no one was injured. The family’s other remaining building includes residential apartments, with some longtime, rent-regulated tenants there paying as little as $400 per month, he said.