Manhattan’s Urban Garden Center Suffers Second Disaster In Two Years

Dimitri Gatanas
Urban Garden Center owner, Dimitri Gatanas

Two years after a nearby gas explosion destroyed the store in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem, Urban Garden Center had a four-alarm fire that disrupted a popular train route, and the garden retailer is now dealing with an angry community.

Urban Garden Center is in a unique location. It leases space beneath the elevated train tracks that run along Park Avenue. Although it leases two blocks of space, the lots are divided by a cross street. The southern lot hosts the retail garden center, and the north lot is currently the staging and storage area. Only the garden center has electricity. Owner Dimitri Gatanas has relied on generators to operate machinery and heat the greenhouse in the second lot.

And that’s where the fire broke out, according the New York Times. An employee was refueling a generator that was still hot, sparking the fire. It quickly grew into a four-alarm fire and shut down service to the popular Metro North train route, a major transportation artery into the city.

As a result, the community is questioning why Urban Garden Center is allowed to operate generators or store fuel. The city’s fire department has cited the garden center for four violations, reports Politico New York. The article itself demonstrates just how much pressure Gatanas is under. It quotes New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says the fire got so hot it popped bolts from the supporting girders for the train line.

urban gc damage
Urban Garden Center was demolished when a gas explosion brought down two nearby buildings.

Two years ago, the garden retail portion of the business was destroyed when a gas explosion brought down two buildings directly across the street. Eight people inside the buildings were killed. Because of the train tracks, only one lane of traffic runs along either side of Urban Garden Center, and the explosion was within feet of the garden center. Two Urban Garden Center employees were spared when they walked to the north lot to retrieve scissors. A rooster had been thrown over the store’s fence (the garden center has a chicken coop), and the workers were unable to untangle the bird.

Remarkably, not only were the employees’ lives spared, but the rooster survived, too.

We visited Urban Garden Center to see how its rebuilding was coming along one year after the explosion. This year’s fire has not impacted the garden center, and it is operating normally.

Here’s what Urban Garden Center looked like last year:


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