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Dec 16, 2016 6:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

UPDATE: Second Sag Harbor Building Demolished, Parts Of Third May Have To Come Down Also

The building that housed Compass Realty in Sag Harbor was torn down on Monday afternoon.   DANA SHAW
Dec 20, 2016 7:59 AM

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Monday

Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Thomas Preiato said on Monday that it's possible a portion of a third building damaged by Friday's fire may have to be demolished also.

While watching the demolition of the Compass realty building on Monday afternoon, Mr. Preiato said the damage to the building on the opposite side of the former cinema entrance also appears to be badly compromised.

"It looks like a portion of that building is going to have to come down too," he said, gesturing to the charred former offices of Brown Harris Stevens realty. "We're hoping not the whole thing, obviously."

Mr. Preiato said that inspections of the damage also revealed that the Brown Harris Stevens offices and what had been assumed to be a separate building to the south, housing a Henry Lehr store, appear to be one structure, with two slightly different facades. He said tin roofing found underneath charred timbers appears to run continuously along the entire structure.

Both the Compass offices and the Brown Harris Stevens offices shared outer walls with the structure that formed the entrance hallway to the Sag Harbor Cinema. That structure, which filled an old alleyway that used to separate the buildings, burned away almost completely on Friday, leaving only the concrete face of the theater standing, until it was knocked down that night.

UPDATE: 2 p.m., Monday

A second building damaged in Friday's fire on Main Street in Sag Harbor is being razed on Monday.

The building being torn down Monday was home to Compass reality, which had taken over Strough Real Estate one year ago. It also contained two apartments and the fire is believed to have begun on the building's back deck.

The Sag Harbor Cinema was demolished on Friday night after engineers determined that its iconic concrete facade, the only portion of the front entrance left standing after the fire, posed a threat of collapse.

Crews knocked it down late on Friday but pulled the aluminum "Sag Harbor" sign that hung above its oft-photographed front entrance from the rubble relatively intact, bringing cheers from crowds of onlookers and a crowd-funding effort to someday restore the appearance of the theater building.

The main theater of the cinema did not burn but suffered extensive smoke damage.

The other three buildings that were engulfed by flames before firefighters could snuff them out are believed to be structurally sound enough to remain standing and be renovated in place.

UPDATE: 10:15 p.m. Friday

Crews brought down the bulk of the Sag Harbor Cinema building by 9 p.m. on Friday night, though the iconic Art Deco neon sign on the front of the building was salvaged, though damaged.

The crew used heavy equipment to knock down the front facade. Village officials were concerned that it posed a risk of collapse, and fire officials also said the cleanup would prevent rekindling of the blaze, which destroyed the theater and damaged four other buildings on Main Street.

The crowd that gathered to watch the building come down cheered when workers pulled the remnants of the sign out of the rubble and set it aside for safe keeping.


With concerns over Friday morning’s fire possibly rekindling, Sag Harbor officials said they planned to demolish the Sag Harbor Cinema by Saturday morning.

“We have to take down the buildings,” Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder said Friday night. “It’s a hazard to the public and it’s a big concern.”

The fire, which began around 6:10 a.m. Friday, spread through eight businesses and four apartments—all in five buildings on Sag Harbor Main Street. The fire reportedly started on a back deck of a building that houses Compass Real Estate and an apartment. At least one person was asleep in the building where the fire started and was rousted by a Sag Harbor Village Police officer who spotted the fire spreading on the deck and called fire crews. There were no injuries in the fire, which was fully extinguished early Friday afternoon. Ms. Schroeder has declared a state of emergency in the village.

According to Sag Harbor Fire Department Chief Thomas Gardella, the iconic facade of the cinema, with its neon Sag Harbor sign, was highly unstable and needed to be knocked down, along with at least one other adjacent building.

“There’s a risk of [the fire] rekindling if we don’t clean it up,” he told a group of East End, county and state officials at a special meeting at Sag Harbor Town Hall Friday night.

Although the idea of removing and saving the sign was discussed, fire and police officials said there was likely not enough “structural stability” to do so without risking safety.

“People are more important than that damn sign,” Ms. Schroeder said. “I’m not willing to endanger somebody’s life for it.”

Officials noted that the sign was replaced several years ago.

Along with the mayor and fire chief, in attendance of Friday night’s meeting was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, and numerous police, fire and governmental officials.

According to Mr. Gardella, there were no injuries from the fire, although he did note that with old buildings like the theater, it was possible some of the smoke from the fire contained toxic chemicals.

“Any smoke that we see, we have to assume that it’s very toxic,” he said. He noted that since the fire was out, there was no immediate safety risk.

Officials have indicated that there was up to four feet of water in the basement of the theater and that owner Gerald Mallow, who has a residence in Florida, had been notified. The roof towards the front of the theater completely collapsed, with the back of the roof still in tact. Officials said the facade of the building, where the neon sign is, was leaning forward toward the sidewalk and shook when fire volunteers sprayed it with water earlier Friday. Officials said it was unclear when Main Street would reopen to pedestrians, but Mr. Gardella said it could partially reopen once the demolition has taken place and the structure was secure.

Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire said there was no evidence of “foul play,” as the cause of the fire, although the investigation was ongoing. A state arson investigation squad was called to the scene, which Mr. Gardella said was standard protocol for the size of the fire.

Much of the scene remained frozen from the below freezing temperatures, with broken glass and debris scattered throughout the store fronts.

Mr. Thiele and Mr. Bellone told the mayor that they would be working closely with the village to financially assist with repairs. Mr. Thiele added that he intended to help the village businesses affected by the fire recover, as their stores were closed during a typically busy shopping season for the village.

“All of Main Street is suffering,” one official remarked.

“It is a tragedy,” Mr. Schneiderman added. “It’s buildings—it’s not people … we can rebuild buildings.”

According to officials from the village’s historical society, the group has been working on negotiations with another unnamed organization to restore the cinema into a cinema arts center. During this negotiation, the group recently completed a survey of the building, along with detailed photographs, which officials may use to reconstruct the building.

“It’s obviously a dark day for Sag Harbor—but Sag Harbor usually shines its brightest on these days,” Village Trustee Ken O’Donnell said, referring to the efforts of the various East End fire and police departments. “From Southampton to East Hampton—we’re all in it together.”

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At a time of year that is supposed to be so happy for so many, my heart aches for the beautiful Village of Sag Harbor and its residents. Thankfully, there were no deaths or injuries. Thanks and appreciation to all of the volunteer Fire Departments and Ambulance Corps from Riverhead to Montauk that responded.

Today’s disaster will take years to overcome. I remember the Easter Sunday fire in the 90’s that destroyed the Hardware store, as well as other businesses. Took a long ...more
By Robert I Ross (247), Hampton Bays on Dec 16, 16 7:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Job well done by FD, EMS,PD and all involved....
Great job by the Harbor FD...
By knitter (1725), Southampton on Dec 16, 16 7:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
great work under dangerous conditions by our local Fire Ems And Pd - Nice to see Village County and State officials coming together to assist those who have lost homes and business - this is why our communities on the east end are the best ! Local residents will pull together ...
By harrisw (27), sh on Dec 16, 16 8:00 PM
2 members liked this comment
What i dont understand is how that the theater collapse but the real estate where it started from behind it did not collapse?

By LaurenCaporimo (3), on Dec 17, 16 11:17 AM
Well, the 80 years worth of tar on that flat roof probably had something to do with it. It was a powerful accelerant.
By Just sitting on the taffrail (36), Southampton on Dec 20, 16 1:44 PM
Hmmm sounds like a conspiracy right? There's always one nut for every story.
By chief1 (2725), southampton on Dec 17, 16 2:52 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser