By Sara-Megan Walsh
The owner of a historic Smithtown property destroyed by a fire last week is wasting no time in brushing himself off, picking up the pieces and promising the Ebo Hill mansion will rise again.
Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza of Commack and Deer Park, has publicly promised Smithtown residents that he plans to rebuild the historic building that was burned to its studs March 26.
The new owner of the three-story house, once owned by descendants of the town founder Richard Smyth, said he had been burning scraps to provide heat as he and his crew worked on renovations. The last piece of wood was put into the fireplace at approximately 3 p.m., according to Albano, adding only embers remained when he left for the day at around 5:15 p.m.
“If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace,” Albano said.
“If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace.”
— Richard Albano
Albano said a worker was in the rear of the building when he heard a popping noise and found the fireplace mantle was on fire. The worker grabbed a fire extinguisher and used it to douse the flames, according to Albano. The worker then heard a crackling noise coming from upstairs and discovered the second story of the building was engulfed in the blaze.
Smithtown Fire Department received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a structure fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Jeff Bressler, a spokesman for the fire department. Albano said the call was made by a neighbor, who immediately called him.
“When I pulled out of my driveway, I saw the whole sky was lit up from the flames,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything catch fire so quickly and spread so quickly. It’s not even imaginable.”
Hundreds of firefighters from Smithtown, Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James responded to the scene but were unable to enter the building.
Albano said he later learned there was a crack in the chimney on the second floor that when heated, expanded, allowing an ember or spark to slip through, which is what he believes lit the wood floor.
“There’s got to be a reason why,” the owner said. “The only thing I can think of is this would have happened after the house was complete. My family wasn’t in there. The house wasn’t completely redone. It could have been a lot worse.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by Suffolk County’s arson squad and Town of Smithtown fire marshals, but no findings were available as of press time. A full investigation may take up to a month to complete.
Albano said he received more than 2,000 messages on the Facebook page he set up to keep residents up to date with the renovations to the historic home, offering both help and encouragement to rebuild. Several GoFundMe campaigns were started by neighbors, according to Albano, but he’s requested they be discontinued and refunds given.
“The wound is still too open,” he said. “It’s too soon.”
Albano said he didn’t have any homeowner’s insurance to cover the damage because he wasn’t able to live in the house yet. He did take out a builder’s risk policy, which he hopes will provide some funds to rebuild.
“It will probably be a few months before I know, but I hope to be back in the construction phase in six weeks,” he said.
“We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”
— Nicole Garguilo
The owner obtained 1908 floor plans of the house from Smithtown Public Library and consulted with several architects to prepare plans. He hopes to choose an architect to work with within a week, submit building plans to the town and get his building permits. He’s already met with Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and other town officials to discuss his plans.
“He’s looking at a tax assessment increase — he’s looking at a loss, not a gain,” said town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. “We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”
While he may have a long road ahead of him, Albano said he’s upset over the numerous artifacts destroyed by the blaze.
“The room that caught fire was filled with things I would have loved to have, stupid things like a pogo stick from 1969,” he said.
A few items that he managed to save because they were in storage include a turn-of-the-century needlepoint of a Christian hymnal verse and the original weather vane.
“I fell in love with the mansion,” Albano said. “I have a lot of passion in me and I connected with the house dearly. It will rise again.”
See more photos of the March 26 fire at Ebo Hill Mansion here.