Last year a pizzeria owner never would have imagined that his love for an old mansion would take him from hope, to devastation, and back to hope.
It was March 26 last year when Ebo Hill, a nearly 175-year-old three-story mansion on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, burned to its studs. Owner Richard Albano bought the house just a few weeks before with the hopes of restoring it to its former glory. Hundreds of firefighters from Smithtown Fire Department as well as surrounding areas were on the scene to fight the fire.
A year later, Albano said, at times, he’ll be driving at night down Edgewood and feels he can still see the flames.
“In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it was decades ago,” he said.
Fire inspectors found that the fire started inside a second-floor wall next to the fireplace, which had been in use earlier that day. Albano said floor beams were about a foot into the chimney for support and over the years the mortar decayed, which allowed the heat to get to the beams and start the fire.
The homeowner, formerly of Deer Park and owner of Richie’s Pizza in both Deer Park and Commack, was looking for a new house when he stumbled upon Ebo Hill, a home that included 17 bedrooms, two kitchens, a ballroom and numerous bathrooms. The house, which hadn’t been occupied since 2001, belonged to descendants of Smithtown founder Richard Smythe for generations and was once the starting point for the town’s fox hunts.
While he could have sold the property after the fire, Albano said he didn’t give up hope in living in his dream home. With the house’s 1908 floor plans in hand — found by his fiancé at the Smithtown Library — he decided he would replicate the mansion.
Albano said he is grateful for the mild winter, which created favorable conditions for construction. The outside of the home should be completed in the next month, and he’s hoping the landscaping and driveway will be done in the middle or end of May. The HVAC system is already done, and the electricity and plumbing will be completed in the next couple of weeks.
Albano said the home was once moved back on the property, and he rebuilt it 125 feet forward from the original location, which has given him 200 feet of backyard and more than 200 feet of front yard, which has also made the house more centrally located on the property.
Smithtown Historical Society historian Brad Harris said when he first heard of the fire last year he thought history was lost.
“I figured that was the end of it,” Harris said.
However, after meeting with Albano he realized the homeowner had a deep appreciation for its history, and the historian thinks he’s doing a good job in replicating the mansion.
Albano said during his journey with Ebo Hill, besides meeting with Harris, people who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and others who lived in the home have shared their stories with him. With an appreciation of the property’s history, Albano salvaged anything he could from the rubble left behind after the fire. He said steel beams that were still standing after the fire will be incorporated into items such as a table. Flooring from a room he called the ballroom will be used for a closet floor. Also, he had a needlepoint of a Christian hymnal verse and the original weather vane in a storage unit.
“I just want to use as much as possible out of the home,” he said.
Albano said he has been overwhelmed with the support he’s received from the community. As soon as news of the fire broke, social media began buzzing and many who belong to the Facebook page he created to document the renovation of the mansion encouraged him to replicate the structure.
“I’m just amazed at how supportive a community can be,” he said, adding Town of Smithtown officials from Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) to the building department, inspectors and engineering department also have been a big help to him.
“Everybody wants to see the home rebuilt, and I will replicate it the best I can,” he said.
Michal Frankowski, an IT worker who is currently starting a construction company, has worked with Albano on the house since last year. He said when he first saw the remains of the mansion he was surprised that the homeowner was planning to restore it.
“He really loves that place, the whole lot,” Frankowski said. “That old mansion, he just really wants to show the people a replica of it, and I admire him for it.”
He said Albano hasn’t seemed stressed at all, even though he’s sure he is, but he keeps things under control. Frankowski, who recently moved to Kings Park from Bushwick, said he wasn’t too familiar with the history of the mansion but is looking forward to learning more about it in the future.
“That place is magical,” Frankowski said. “Just walking around it. I don’t know there’s something in there. Something in it that has really good energy. I’m really looking forward to it being done.”
While reconstructing the house was a financial undertaking that Albano wasn’t prepared for, the homeowner said he’s a passionate person who isn’t afraid to take on a big project.
“I fell in love with the home,” he said. “It’s tough to rationalize what you should do when you’re in love with something like I am with this home.”
Albano said he is looking forward to sharing his love for the mansion with residents after construction and before he moves in by opening the house to the public for one day. For updates of the Ebo Hill mansion construction, visit The Mansion at Ebo Hill Facebook page.