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Hazardous Conditions At Wicker Jewish Center Force City-Ordered Closure

By Alisa Hauser | October 11, 2017 9:52am
 The Living Room was ordered closed by the Department of Buildings, according to a notice in the window of 1630-32 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Living Room was ordered closed by the Department of Buildings, according to a notice in the window of 1630-32 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — A building owned by a religious group was ordered closed after city inspectors found a litany of violations, including an open elevator shaft, exposed electrical wires and leaking sewer gas.

The Living Room at 1630-1632 N. Milwaukee Ave., owned and operated by the Bucktown Wicker Park Chabad Jewish Center, was closed by the Department of Buildings on Oct. 2.

No one is allowed to enter the building except licensed and bonded contractors who can examine, repair or correct the violations, according to the Emergency Vacate order from the Department of Buildings.

Rabbi Yosef Moscowitz, director of the Living Room at 1630 N. Milwaukee Ave., said Wednesday he is working with the city to resolve the issues.

A buildings court hearing to address the violations is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 19 in Room 1105 of the Richard J. Daley Center.

Moscowitz said the center is "working closely with the City to resolve this all ASAP so that we can continue to serve the community in an even greater capacity."

In a prepared statement, he said there has been an "outpouring of support from the community."

"We are in the midst of celebrating the Holiday of Sukkot when we live in 'temporary dwellings' and are commanded to be joyous. So as we double down in celebration and sharing joy with others, we are so grateful to our incredible community who is standing firmly by our side, thank G-d," Moscowitz said.

Since the building is closed, religious services and holiday-related events like an Oct. 5 Simcah Torah celebration were moved to 1646 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the former Enterprise Car Sharing office.

Moscowitz and his wife, Sara, have eight children. He said he "always felt confident" with their children being in the building and said no one was ever hurt or injured as a result of the building.

About 120 congregants were in the center to observe Yom Kippur last month, Moscowitz said.

As for the open elevator shaft, which was shored up with makeshift materials, Moscowitz said that a new elevator installation was stalled over a dispute with a general contractor.

"He cut out a whole area in the back of the second floor. We had temporary shoring where the elevator was supposed to be," Moscowitz said.

Other problems cited by inspectors who visited the building on Oct. 2 include sewer gas emitted on two of the three floors of the building, lack of hot water in the basement and first two floors, lack of fire protection and commercial cooking equipment on the third floor that is not properly ventilated.

City records show that the century-old old building, which was was bank-owned after a previous owner foreclosed on it, had a history of building violations. It failed nine inspections between 2001 and 2011. Moscowitz's group bought the building in 2010.

"It was a disaster of a building before we got it. The bathroom on the third floor had a hose going up the first and second floor to get water to it," Moscowitz said.

Moscowitz said the group, with the help of donations, has invested $1.5 million into the building and are currently working on constructing an underground mikvah, The City Mikvah.

"We lowered the basement floor by two feet and we put in a geothermal system —  holes 60 to 70 feet deep into the ground — to create heat and air conditioning and eliminate the use of gas," Moscowitz said.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for The City Mikvah was held in Feb. 2015 and the project, first announced in 2014, was supposed to be completed by the end of 2016.

Though the first frozen Kosher Gino's East pizzas, made in collaboration with The Living Room, hit grocery store freezers last April, the long anticipated Kosher Gino's East pizzeria, to be located on the ground floor of the center, is stalled.

"We are in the process of applying for permits for the Gino's permits," Moscowitz said.

Mimi Simon, a Department of Buildings spokeswoman, said the emergency vacate order was due to lack of proper certificate of occupancy and "several dangerous and hazardous building code violations."

The violations included an open and unsecured elevator shaft, live exposed wiring, egress violations, lack of required fire protection, unsafe structural conditions as well as ventilation and plumbing code violations.

Read the emergency vacate order here.