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Richard Albano

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The Ebo Hill mansion is returning to its former glory after a devastating fire burned it to its studs last year. Photo from Facebook

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 fire started inside a second-floor wall next to the fireplace in Ebo Hill March 26. Photo by Laura Johanson

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.

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

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.

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.

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.