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Smithtown

The remains of the historic Ebo Hill mansion in Smithtown after the March 26 fire. Photo by Rita J. Egan

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.”

Firefighters respond to Ebo Hill mansion fire March 26. Photo from Facebook

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. 

Historic property once owned by the town's founding family burnt down to studs

A historic Smithtown mansion once inhabited by the descendants of founder Richard Smythe burned down to its studs Monday night, according to St. James Fire Department.

Suffolk County police received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a fully involved house fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Kevin Barattini, spokesman for St. James Fire Department.

Smithtown Fire Department was first to respond to the scene and immediately reached out for mutual aid from Hauppauge, Kings Park, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James fire departments. The historic mansion was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, according to Barattini, leaving them unable to enter the building.

“You could see this fire for miles,” he said. “It was amazing, that thing was glowing.”

The property was purchased March 8 by Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in Commack and Deer Park, with the intent of restoring the nearly 175-year-old mansion to its original state.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” Albano said.

The new owner said the fire was heartbreaking, and was unable to talk about it any further Tuesday morning.

“I’m absolutely devastated.”
— Richard Albano

Albano began extensive renovations of the more than 11,000-square-foot mansion earlier this year after receiving permission from the previous owner to get started before the sale was final. The home’s 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms had fallen into disrepair, but still contained many of the original fixtures, according to Albano.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he told TBR News Media March 13. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book,” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano had posted March 19 on Facebook that “the restoration is going great and today seemed like it was the [first] day that it felt as things were going back together instead of taking things apart.” He was preparing to install a new roof on the building.

“It’s very unfortunate as you have a guy who was restoring this property and you look forward to seeing it when you pass by it every day,” Barattini said.

The new owner had said he hoped to open the historic mansion for the public to view once it was fully restored. Though Albano has been purchasing, renovating and reselling properties for decades, he said his intention was to live in the Ebo Hill mansion once the project was completed.

There was no reported injuries and the fire is under investigation for unknown causes at this time.

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Veterans for a More Responsive Government, Quick Stop Deli & Catering provide meals for those who served

Volunteers gathered outside Quick Stop Deli and Catering in Commack before bringing St. Patricks Day meals to homeless veterans. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A St. James resident and Commack business owner worked together to make sure the luck of the Irish was
delivered to homeless veterans from Huntington to Riverhead this weekend.

As many Smithtown area residents were waking to find the sun shining on St. Patrick’s Day, Robert Cornicelli, founder of the nonprofit Veterans for a More Responsive Government, gathered his friends and volunteers over cups of coffee at Quick Stop Deli & Catering in Commack.

A volunteer with St. James resident Robert Cornicelli packs meals into a car for delivery. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

Cornicelli, a U.S. Army veteran who retired in November 2017, organized the loading of boxes of prepacked meals in the back of a car to be delivered to disabled homeless veterans at nine United Veterans Beacon House locations throughout Suffolk County. Beacon House is a Bay Shore-based nonprofit that provides housing for homeless veterans, many of whom are disabled due to physical injuries or mental impairments related to their time in the service.

“Every Thanksgiving, I would raise money to bring Thanksgiving meals to Beacon House, then it became Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday,” Cornicelli said. “I decided I’m going to try to do this for every major holiday.”

He launched a GoFundMe campaign mid-February that quickly raised more than $1,000 towards the March 17 feast. When Cornicelli mentioned his idea to longtime friend Rudy Massa, owner of Gasoline Heaven and Quick Stop Deli & Catering, he quickly stepped in to provide food for the 107 veterans and cover the remaining costs.

“Why not? I’m in; let’s do something,” said Massa, a U.S. Army veteran, in remembering their conversation. “We are trying to do the right thing and give back to the community a little bit.”

St. Patricks Day meals for homeless veterans made by Quick Stop Deli & Catering in Commack. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

On Saturday, Massa provided 107 plates of a “proper St. Patrick’s Day feast” consisting of corned beef and cabbage, Irish-style potatoes, carrots, Irish soda bread and the utensils needed to dig in.

Joining Cornicelli and Massa in delivering the meals was U.S. Marine Corp veteran Terry Devaney, a resident of one of the Beacon House locations in Huntington. He wanted to lend a hand after enjoying the Super Bowl meals set up by the St. James nonprofit in conjunction with Tommy O’Grady, owner of Miller Place’s Tuscany Gourmet Market, last month.

“It’s very gratifying to know that people are thinking about you,” Devaney said. “A lot of veterans feel they are kind of forgotten once they are discharged.”

Devaney, who served in the Vietnam War, retired from his position as a veteran service officer for Suffolk County in September 2017 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he wanted to help as the free meals provided by Cornicelli and his nonprofit go a long way towards boosting morale. 

“It may seem like a small matter to most people, but a good meal can mean a lot,” Devaney said. “To have them deliver it and say thank you for your service, it re-instills your pride in having served.” 

New owner hopes to have property tracing its roots back to town's founder restored in a year

Ebo Hill mansion on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook.

A Commack pizzeria owner has purchased one of Smithtown’s historic mansions in the hopes of lovingly restoring it with his own two hands.

Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in both Commack and Deer Park, became the landowner of Ebo Hill mansion on Edgewood Road March 8. Albano began renovating the three-story house nearly a month ago, unable to wait until the sale of the property was finalized.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he said. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

Richard Albano, on left, in front of Ebo Hill mansion. Photo from Facebook.

Albano, of Deer Park, said he stumbled upon the nearly 175-year-old mansion once owned by descendants of Smithtown’s founder, Richard Smythe, while hunting for a larger home for himself. Upon seeing it, he reached out to prior owner, RichardLongobardi, to inquire if it was for sale. Albano said he flipped eight houses in 10 months to raise funds necessary to purchase the property, then set up a tour.

“It’s so majestic,” he said. “Walking through the house on a 20-degree day with two flashlights in hand, you would expect it to be eerie. The house still had this warm, homey feeling to it.”

Albano declined to share the final sale price he negotiated with Longobardi for the historic property.

Albano admitted that despite flipping houses, or purchasing properties and reselling for profit since 1984, he has never taken on a project of this size or magnitude before. The more than 11,000-square-foot mansion, which he heard was last inhabited in 2001, contains 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, a master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms that have many of the building’s original fixtures.

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Richard Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano said as he’s started renovating he’s found items spanning back through the centuries dating as far back as Ethelbert Smith’s years of ownership. A steel beam supporting the house’s structure is clearly marked “E.M. Smith” while the main staircase still has “Smith” written on it in pencil.

Beam inside Ebo Hill house with “E.M. Smith” written on it. Photo from Facebook.

“Nobody at any point in time ripped anything apart to go replace it with something new,” Albano said. “They kept the original things working. I appreciate it very much.”

Other recent discoveries include the home’s original weather vane, a pogo stick, and a stitched needlepoint piece bearing the title of the Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” found under the floorboards in the attic. Albano said it wasn’t until he tore the boards off the windows that he found the location of the refrigerated walk-in box, which he said was believed to be the first of its kind on Long Island.

One change made to the original house that its new owner wishes to undo is its location. The house was once moved from the northeast corner of Edgewood and Landing to sit further back on the property by Smith, according to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book.” Albano said he will be hiring a moving company to lift and move the house forward, setting it on a new foundation to improve stability and create a backyard.

The new owner said there have been a few issues with people trespassing in the home as work has been underway, but said it’s been largely out of curiosity rather than malicious intent.

“Once it’s presentable, I intend to open it up to the public for a day,” he said. “It’s part of Smithtown’s history.”

Albano said he hopes to move in and take up residency as soon as possible. If everything goes smoothly, he hopes to have the mansion renovated in about a year.

Dozens of people entered Napper Tandy’s Pub in Smithtown to boldly go bald at a St. Baldrick’s Day event March 10. The event raised more than $50,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds childhood cancer research.

The top fundraising team was the fourth-grade boys Smithtown Bulls lacrosse team, coached by Rob Trites, which collected more than $12,000 for the charity.

“This is our third year doing it as a team,” Trites said. “It’s a great event to get the kids together at — a nonsporting event so they can bond and give back, shave their heads in solidarity with children fighting disease.”

Smithtown Town councilman Tom Lohmann (R) and Robert Murphy (R), the town’s superintendent of highways, shaved their heads this year. Lohmann and Murphy were part of a team that raised more than $11,000 in memory of Matthew Gonzalez, who died May 21, 2009 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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The approximate location for a proposed 120-foot cellphone tower at 300 West Main Street. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Proposed plans to build a 120-foot cellphone tower on Smithtown’s West Main Street may have hit additional interference from Smithtown Town officials.

The town board voted unanimously March 6 to require a full environmental impact study from Deer Park-based Elite Towers on its proposed plans to construct a cellphone tower opposite the Stop & Shop plaza.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said the decision to require an environmental study was made based on a March 6 recommendation from Russ Barnett, the town’s director of Environmental and Waterways Division.

Barnett said the cellphone tower plans have raised several environmental concerns due to its proximity to the Nissequogue River, as well as the possibility of it having a negative visual impact on western downtown Smithtown. The developers have also requested a variance to eliminate any required setback from nearby office buildings.

“There are concerns for health and safety of such a tall pole being next to habitable building,” he said, noting if the tower suddenly collapsed it could hit the buildings or people. “We’re afraid it would set a precedence of town code not being applicable in the future.”

In addition, Barnett said he questioned if one of the seven other potential sites for the antenna considered by the utility company or other alternative technologies might result in better cellphone coverage with less of an impact.

“Existing and proposed coverage maps prepared by the application’s [radiofrequency] engineer indicate that the proposed monopole will still leave large areas of [Caleb Smith State] park and its environs without adequate service,” reads the March 6 recommendation letter.

Gregory Alvarez, an attorney representing Elite Towers, said the company was disappointed by the town board’s decision. The developer said it has already addressed the town’s concerns, according to Alvarez, particularly the issue of the tower’s visibility. They previously placed a crane on the proposed property and photographs of how it would look were taken from 25 locations across town.

“This application has been studied rigorously for two and a half years and requiring an [environmental impact study] will kick it out another two years, and adversely affect coverage in the community,” said David Bronston, an attorney representing AT&T at the board meeting.

Barnett said the average time required to complete such a report ranges from 18 to 24 months. Once an initial draft is completed, residents will have at minimum 30-days to review the document and submit comments, according to Barnett. The developer must incorporate this  public feedback into a final report, after which Smithtown residents will be given at least another 10 days to comment before the town board makes a decision.

“Bottom line, we’re obligated to protect the health of both residents and our habitat,” Wehrheim said. “If it turns out that there is no impact on our community we’ll make an informed decision at that time.”

Liu Fengying and Ma Zi Juan were arrested during a massage parlor raid in Smithtown. Photos from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested two women during a raid at a massage parlor in Smithtown March 8.

In response to numerous community complaints, Suffolk County police 4th Precinct crime section officers, Suffolk County police detectives, and the Town of Smithtown fire marshal conducted an investigation into illegal activities at the Cecilia Spa, located at 139 East Main St., at approximately 3 p.m.

During the investigation conducted by the Town of Smithtown fire marshal, numerous violations were discovered, and summonses were issued for each.

Ma Zi Juan, 35, of Flushing, and Liu Fengying, 40, of Lindenhurst, were both arrested and charged with alleged prostitution and unauthorized practice of a profession, a Class E felony under the New York State education law.

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Annual game brings the fun while raising funds for DECA club

By Bill Landon

The Harlem Wizards’ Rocket Unit took off Thursday night.

The famed basketball team brought its tricks, hoops and alley oops to Smithtown West to dazzle a 600-plus crowd while raising money for the Distributive Education Clubs of America club.

“They put on a great show,” said DECA club advisor Cindy Wood, a business teacher at West. “The kids and the parents are great and we get everyone from all different schools right here in our district. We usually don’t get that, so it’s a really nice way to bring everyone together.”

Wood was one of many educators to excel out on the court as the Bulls battled against Rocket, Big J, The Artist, Jet and La Fiesta March 1. Tom Vulin, who usually fights from the sidelines as head coach of Smithtown East’s girls basketball team, showed his 3-point prowess to earn him a “shooter” shout out from play-by-play announcer D.J. Swiv every time the ball touched his hands.

Hauppauge resident Jaime Glas brought her whole family to the game expecting to enjoy it from the bleachers, but the Wizards had other ideas. Big J plucked the Comsewogue school district teacher from the crowd to meet him on the dance floor, and after immediate terror, turned lemons into lemonade as she showed him her moves.

“I was mortified,” said Glas, laughing. “As a teacher, that’s what we do every day — we just kind of roll with it.”

Behind Vulin and Wood was Accompsett Elementary School teacher Ed Vinas, who was brought out on the court for a different reason after receiving an email from event organizer Denise Massimo.

“When my daughter found out about it, she talked me into coming out tonight, so it’s become a family affair,” Vinas said. “I’ve seen them a couple of times and they put on a good show.”

Massimo, also a DECA advisor and business teacher, said putting on a spectacle of that magnitude requires tons of help. She and Wood, advisors of the business and marketing club, begin planning a year in advance. The kids running the booths, the ticket sales and concession stands are all officers of the club.

“It’s great to see everyone come together and everything culminate into what’s seen here,” Massimo said. “It was a great turnout.”

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to locate a man who was last seen at a Smithtown hospital in December.

Thomas Eastwood, 58, was last seen when he was discharged from Saint Catherine of Siena Medical Center, located at Route 25A,  Dec. 14, 2017. Eastwood was reported missing by his brother on December 30.

Eastwood, who is homeless, is white, 5 feet 11 inches tall and approximately 250 pounds.

Detectives are asking anyone with information to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or call 911.

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Theilen family launches GoFundMe campaign to cover medical costs from Evelyn’s battle with neurofibromatosis

The Theilen family of Smithtown. Photo from Theilen family.

By Kevin Redding

It was a parental nightmare. Immediately following the birth of their twins in 2016, Allon and Lauren Theilen of Smithtown were told by doctors that their daughter’s leg was broken and it had no chance of healing. An hour later, they learned that amputation would be in little Evelyn’s future.

“It was devastating,” Allon Theilen said.

His wife, Lauren, who experienced no difficulties during pregnancy, said it was the hardest thing in the world to hear.

Through testing and meetings with multiple orthopedists, the couple found out Evelyn suffers from a condition called pseudoarthrosis of the tibia, which is caused by a rare genetic, cancer-related disease known as neurofibromatosis Type 1, or NF1, which occurs in one of every 3,000 to 4,000 people worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Evelyn’s bone fragility was among NF1’s rarest symptoms. The disease has been aggressive, eating away at her leg bone. So far, Evelyn has had a broken tibia, a broken fibula and her legs are no longer equal in length.

Evelyn Theilen, of Smithtown, is held by her mother, Lauren Theilen. Photo from Theilen family.

The Theilens have sought treatment options that would allow their daughter to keep her leg, setting them on a journey across the state, and then the country.

“Most doctors we met would offer a surgery but with a very bleak outlook,” her father said. “Every time you do the surgery, you lose more leg bone. Most failed surgeries meant amputation.”

Lauren Theilen said it was sometimes difficult to even find somebody who was aware of their daughter’s medical condition at all.

Extensive research led them to the Paley Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, a limb-saving and deformity-correction practice started by Dr. Dror Paley, whom Allon Theilen calls “the miracle man.” After several trips from New York to Florida and meeting with  Paley, a challenging surgery that involves a bone graft taken from both sides of her hips and a hollowing of her two leg bones in an attempt to fuse the leg was scheduled.

“Sitting in a waiting room full of parents in the same position spoke volumes to us,” Evelyn’s mother said. “I’m hopeful now, but also terrified.”

On Feb. 8, Evelyn, now a 14-month-old described by her parents as “feisty, happy, playful and out-of-this-world intelligent,” underwent the surgery. The final results won’t be known for another six weeks. The Theilens said the best outcome would be that her bone fully mends and she’ll need to wear a brace until she’s about age 18 to help stretch her damaged leg to equal length with the other. Alternatively, the bone won’t heal, the graft and tibia won’t fuse, her ankle becomes deformed and other abnormalities may occur.

“I think this is the most trying year we’ll ever have to go through,” Lauren Theilen said. “People always say, ‘Look at you guys. You’re so strong.’ To me, it kind of feels like we’re just going day-by-day, doing what we have to do. There are days when he falls apart and I have to pick up, and vice-versa. We kind of take turns being strong and being there for each other.”

The Theilen twins of Smithtown pretend to drive. Photo from Theilen family.

Allon Theilen set up a GoFundMe campaign Feb. 3, asking for a total $25,000 to help cover some of Evelyn’s medical costs. The family has  exhausted their life savings on “medical expenses, flights and hotels,” and his wife has been forced to put her job on hold. Even after health care insurance, the surgery costs about $10,000.

In 18 days, the page has raised $18,906 from family, friends and generous strangers. 

“That really blew me away,” said Allon’s sister, Andrea Morris, a Huntington resident. “I was overwhelmed by how many people came together for them.”

Evelyn’s father said despite what happens, he and his wife will never give up.

“We’ve dealt with a lot and keep our feet planted to the ground,” he said. “It sounds nonhumbling to say we’re very strong but that’s what everyone tells us, so we kind of have to believe them.”

The Theilen family’s GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/evelyn039s-battle-with-nf1.

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