January 2004

January 25, 2004

Masons hope to salvage some relics from rubble

Group to begin picking up the pieces this week

After fighting flames that burned for more than four days, Bangor firefighters were finally able to go home Tuesday morning.
Bangor firefighters finally left the scene of the Masonic Hall fire Tuesday morning after dousing the building and the rubble from the building’s demolition for 4 ½ days.

A chain-link fence erected Wednesday encloses the lot now and a security guard is at the site to prevent curiosity seekers from sifting through the rubble and protect the demolished building’s contents. Last Saturday the police arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of theft after a passerby reportedly saw the boy take a ceremonial sword from the rubble, according to the Bangor Daily News, which reported that the officer said in his report that the boy didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

Last Sunday night, a WVII-TV newsbreak featured an older woman holding a brick from the rubble. She told the reporter that she had taken the brick because she felt she “had” to have a piece of history.

Despite the massive damage caused by the flames that burned for almost five days and demolition by a crane, the Masons might be able to salvage some items. On Tuesday, a purple banner or robe could be seen intact where the rear of the building had been. Other items visible were a spine from a loose leaf notebook and page dividers, and blank envelopes.

The Masons hope to begin cleaning up the site next week.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but fire officials have said they don’t believe it was arson. The owner of River City Gallery, one of two businesses in the building, told the Bangor Daily News in Thursday’s edition that he left the building at about 7:30 p.m. the night of the fire, about an hour before the fire was first reported. He said he had complained to the Masons that day about the boiler constantly running.

Bartlett does not plan to reopen his business.

The Little Lad's Basket bakery, only a few dozen feet from the Masonic Hall's south wall, remained closed last week.
Ed Fowler, owner of Yankee Shoe Repair, which was on the Water Street side of the building, had no insurance for his business. However, if he can raise enough money he would like to reopen.

As for the Masons, area chapters have offered the Bangor chapter meeting space. The organization ran a learning center at the building where students with dyslexia could get tutoring. The law firm Rudman & Winchell, which owns the Graham Building on Harlow Street downtown, will provide a temporary home for the center, which the Masons expect to reopen in early February.

The De Molay chapter of the Masons, for youths age 12 through 21, has accepted an offer from the Orrington Masons to use that chapter’s meeting space. In a message to its members, the Bangor De Molay chapter said on its Web site that it has already received items to replace those lost in the fire.

“Within less than 48 hours of the fire’s start, we had replaced nearly everything, including a De Molay Bible, altar cloth, capes, ritual costuming, candles, etc.,” the message said. “The donation came from a previously defunct chapter and we will replace it should the time come that they want to reactivate there.”

Traffic resumed on lower Main Street last Saturday night and Bangor Public Works crews soon reopened Water Street. The BAT bus system resumed normal service at the Pickering Square garage Wednesday.

By Monday afternoon, a traffic signal knocked over in the demolition was back up and working. The stream of onlookers had trickled to the occasional passerby with a camera or camcorder. A large group of what appeared to be pre-schoolers took a walk to view the site from across Water Street, with boys and girls talking excitedly while pointing to the collapsed brick panels, mangled steel and charred interior walls.

An Associated Press photo of the ice-encased structure ran prominently in newspapers around the country, including the Boston Globe, New York Times, Orange County Register in California, Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Seattle Times. It was the second-most e-mailed news photo by readers of Yahoo's news page for a couple of days last week.

Biography of a building

1918 basement fire damaged Masonic Hall heavily

The fire was most intense in the basement, firefighters said. This view of the Water Street side of the building shows the most fire damage. Investigators want to take a look near where the boiler room was.
Last week’s devastating fire wasn’t the first for the 135-year-old Masonic Hall. On Dec. 1, 1918, a fire in the building’s basement caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage while keeping firefighters busy for four hours in freezing temperatures.

Fire officials believe last week’s fire began in the basement.

In the 1918 fire, the Masons incurred $25,000 in damage while Guth Piano Co. incurred $5,000, Townsend Grocery $1,500 and the New York Syndicate store $50,000. Guth Piano did not have insurance.

According to the Dec. 2, 1918, Bangor Daily Commercial, Cost S. Vafiades, a shoe repairman with a shop nearby, spotted the fire at 6 p.m. Smoke and flames were coming out of a basement window of the New York Syndicate. Firefighters flooded the building with 10 hoses and needed four hours to douse the flames in the Syndicate.

The Commercial’s account of the scene mirrored that of last week’s blaze.

“The morning was bitterly cold, and the firemen were handicapped in their work by the ice, which formed rapidly on their clothing and on the lines of hose,” the paper reported.

“The blaze was not a spectacular one, but dense volumes of smoke poured from the building, making it a hard fire to fight, and in the meanwhile the flames were gradually working their way through the partition until the Guth store, the Townsend grocery and the Masonic club were invaded.”

Hall was a ‘particularly impressive building’ on Main Street

To those who had the privilege of walking through the Masonic Hall, the building was one of Bangor’s most impressive and one of the few remaining reminders of the Queen City’s heyday sophistication during the height of the lumber boom in the late-1800s.

In 1867, the Bangor Masons formed a committee to discuss building their own city block, according to architecture historian Deborah Thompson in her book “Bangor, Maine 1769-1914:

An Architectural History.” A year later, workers – many of whom were Masons – finished the building’s exterior, hence the 1868 date plaque above the third floor on the building’s facade.

William Carlisle, who had designed the Universalist Church, was the building’s architect. H.A. Harlow of Brewer supplied the bricks, D.H. Fernald and George V. Laws did the masonry work, S.F. Jones did the stonework, “Messrs.” Pattee and Goodwin did the carpentry, Marshal Dyer did the painting, and Charles J. Schumacher of Portland did the frescoing, according to Thompson.

Despite the exterior’s completion in 1868, the building was not finished until June 1870. At the time, the roof was a mansard. Renovations in the early 1900s would eliminate the mansard in favor of a flat roof and add an addition to the back of the structure.

John Edwards Godfrey, a judge and Bangor historian, described the building’s dedication ceremony in the July 3, 1870, entry to his journal:


My Dear Sons,


The past has been a gay week in Bangor. The Masons from various parts of the state assembled to dedicate the new hall here. There were six encampments, I believe. They were in uniform and made a very handsome appearance. They wore the military staff cap of one half a century ago, with a feather in it – black dress and silver lace. In procession they looked fine.

The third floor was the $30,000 building’s main attraction. With a ceiling 20 feet high, it featured large stained glass windows that overlooked Main and Water streets. The floor featured the main hall and armory.

The June 29, 1870, edition of the Bangor Whig & Courier reported on the building’s dedication, focusing on the floor’s main hall, which it called one of the finest lodge rooms in the country.

“Upon entering, one is struck with its noble proportions and the magnificence of its furnishings,” the paper reported. “The hall measures 56 by 34 feet on the floor, which is covered with a rich carpet, and the walls painted in elegant symbolic designs rise 20 feet to the ceiling upon which the fancy of the painter has displayed itself in beautiful traceries.”

A chandelier, manufactured by Tucker Manufacturing Co. of Boston, graced the hall from the center of the ceiling.

Furniture in the main hall was polished in black walnut and upholstered in crimson velvet.

The armory, which was off from the main hall, was 30 feet long and 24 feet wide, with a 15-foot ceiling. A large mirror occupied most of the room’s north wall. Here, the Masons displayed in glass cases costumes and regalia.

The fourth floor contained a 30-by-32-foot banquet room and a 24-by-50-foot drill hall. Both had 12-foot ceilings. Sliding doors that could be pushed back to separated the rooms.

Although the grand building served the Masons well, space became limited toward the mid-1900s. On June 6, 1945, a group of Masons proposed that the organization relocate to a larger building or renovate and expand its current home. The Masons decided to renovate and add on, and in fall 1953, the group announced it had hired Auburn architect Alonzo J. Harriman to work on the project, which involved redesigning the facade, adding an elevator and enlarging the meeting halls.

The project cost about $300,000. The Masons rededicated the building on Oct. 14, 1955.

A major cosmetic change to the building’s exterior was the addition of a polished granite veneer on the Main and Water street sides, above the first floor. In the mid-1980s, the city sought to rejuvenate the downtown business district by passing an ordinance that required building owners to adhere to cosmetic standards that preserved the district’s historic character.

The report called the granite veneer “disfiguring” and recommended that the Masons remove it.

“This was originally one of the most impressive buildings on Main Street, and its restoration would be a strong asset,” the report said.

The veneer remained.

The city last assessed the building’s value at $800,000. Although the Bangor Masons will likely build a new lodge, it probably won’t be at the same site, former lodge master Royce Wheeler told the Bangor Daily News in last weekend’s edition.

January 19, 2004

Smoldering rubble continues to draw spectators

After almost 72 hours, fires deep within Masonic Hall continue to burn

The Bangor Fire Department's Snorkel truck continued to spray water Sunday afternoon onto the burning rubble of the Masonic Hall building as traffic resumed on Main Street.
A deep-burning fire continues to smolder amid the rubble of the Masonic Hall building on Main Street in downtown Bangor. On Sunday, a Snorkel truck continued to spray water on the building’s remains.

Bangor police reopened lower Main Street at about 6 p.m. Saturday night and removed police tape from all but a 100-foot section of the sidewalk in front of where the building once stood. People continued to stop and watch the smoking rubble late Sunday afternoon, despite wet snowfall.

Smoke from the fire rode the wind all the way to outer Wilson Street in Brewer Saturday night; a thick and dirty cloud hovered over the demolished building’s remains.

The Bangor Fire Department has poured about 10 million gallons of water on the blaze. That’s the equivalent of almost six Thomas Hill standpipes. The 1.75-million gallon standpipe, whose purpose is to store reserve water to fight fires downtown, has provided the bulk of the water used since Thursday.

Among the identifiable rubble were a traffic signal that fell as a side effect of Friday night’s demolition, a Christmas wreath and lights, bricks and steel girders.

Smoke from fires still burning deep within the rubble pours out from where the building's front first-floor windows had been.
Smoke continued to pour out where the windows at the front of the building had been on the first floor. A Bangor firefighter said the demolition actually made it more difficult to put the fire out.

A Bangor fire captain told WABI-TV that local restaurants had donated food for the firefighters who have monitored the site. A woman holding a brick from the building told WVII-TV that she felt she had to have a piece of history.

Crews will begin removing the rubble as soon as the city and the building’s owners decide what to do with it.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

January 17, 2004

Breaking News update

Bangor says goodbye to piece of history

Wrecking weight reduces the still-burning Masonic Hall to rubble

Hundreds turn out despite nasty wind chill to capture the spectacle on camera

Chunks of debris fall from the Masonic Hall building early Saturday morning. It took a demolition crew about 14 hours to demolish the building.
A demolition crew worked throughout the night Friday into Saturday morning, reducing the 4 1/2-story Masonic Hall to a single-story pile of burning rubble.

Flames and burning embers could still be seen as a 100-foot-tall crane from DiCenzo swayed a large weight into the walls of the historic building. Hundreds of people turned out to witness the demolition after Bangor’s three major television stations reported on the 6 o’clock news the fire officials’ intention to raze the building.

Popular vantage points were Pickering Square, the Greyhound bus station parking lot, Middle Street and Cross Street. Those not brave enough to stand in the frigid weather preferred to sit in their running cars and watch from Middle Street.

Shortly before the Pickering Square parking garage closed for the day, dozens of people took advantage of the garage to take photos as the demolition crew began the project on the back wall of the Masonic Hall. Young boys in the Greyhound parking lot cheered on the crane operator as he worked the multi-ton weight back and forth in a light breeze that blew smoke, steam and sparks over Key Bank and sometimes over Pickering Square.

Others, mostly adults, seemed frustrated at the pace of the demolition, which featured long pauses at times as DiCenzo and city officials gathered to figure out their next move with the crane. The Masonic Hall was less than 60 feet from the Freese’s building and about 50 feet from the building that houses Epi’s Pizza and Subs.

The wrecking crew was careful not to have debris fall more than a few feet away from the building.

Shortly before midnight, the wrecking weight had split the north wall of the building into two sections.
At times, the crippled building seemed to taunt the wrecking weight, with nothing happening upon impact. A stairwell and what appeared to be an elevator shaft proved to be particularly stubborn in coming down. And one of the last large remnants of the building, on the north side, resisted the weight for about a half hour before the crane operator focused on smashing in what remained of the second story on the front of the building.

The demolition work began shortly after 5 p.m. and continued after 6 a.m. The temperature did rise throughout the night, but the wind picked up, keeping the wind chill close to zero.

In for a long night, Bangor police officers manning the department’s mobile crime unit van ordered delivery from Domino’s. The delivery man got a police escort through the barricades set up on the Hammond Street end of Main Street.

Because of the extent of the damage caused by the fire and the need to demolish the building, authorities might never know what caused the blaze, which was the most damaging in Bangor since a wing of the Bangor House burned in 1954.

Normally on a Friday night in winter downtown Bangor is empty, except for bars scattered on the downtown perimeter. But at 10 p.m. curiosity seekers were still arriving to watch the spectacle. Traffic was backed up on Columbia Street. Some couples watching it all appeared to have made it part of their date, dressed up, holding hands, or embracing each other in the cold.

A man with a large-format film camera set up just short of the police tape on Main Street. Amateurs trained point-and-shoot digital cameras at the crumbling building while others recorded the event on camcorders.

At 5:45 a.m., this was what remained of the building's facade. The fire was still burning
Firefighters from Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Holden fought the blaze Thursday night into Friday morning, reportedly using 6,000 gallons of water per minute in a vain effort to douse the fire. Water cascaded from the building’s upper floors to the street and froze almost instantly, creating an ice house and an ice bank at least 6 feet high in places in front of the building. The ice was several inches thick on the building in spots, requiring multiple hits by the wrecking weight just to break the ice.

One Bangor firefighter took photos of the demolition early Friday evening and turned and said to one group of onlookers behind the police tape: “I hate to say it, but it’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen all winter.”

The Masons used the building’s upper floors for meeting space and to display antiques and other memorabilia gathered throughout the building’s lifespan, which began in the 1860s. Some of the items lost included silverware crafted by Paul Revere, according to a WLBZ-TV report.

Although the building had 4 ½ stories, the third story was much higher than average. One onlooker told another that when he had a business in the building in the late-1980s, he visited the magnificent third floor and was impressed by the furniture, which, he said, included slate pool tables.

The building’s third floor featured large, stained-glass windows that were probably the originals. Although the building stood up well to the wrecking weight, its design probably contributed to the building’s demise, with spaces between walls that had been replaced and renovated throughout the years providing the flames with extra air, concealing the flames and preventing firefighters from reaching them in time.

The crane finished its work shortly before 7:30 this morning.

Bangorinfo.com will feature additional photos of the fire and demolition by Sunday evening.

Photos and text Copyright Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.

January 16, 2004

Breaking news update

Masonic Hall a total loss
Fire still burning nearly 24 hours later
Hundreds watch demolition

The Masonic Hall was covered in ice more than a foot thick in places after firefighters poured thousands of gallons of water on the burning structure throughout the night.
The Masonic Hall in downtown Bangor is a total loss. Almost 24 hours after fire broke out in the historic structure, flames were still licking at the window frames on the third floor.

Demolition crews are working to bring the 4 1/2-story building down while hundreds of people watch. With the fire continuing inside at daybreak, fire officials determined that the building could not be saved and that if they allowed it to stand, it might collapse onto surrounding buildings and streets.

A 100-foot-tall crane positioned behind the building has been smashing the south and east walls since about 5:30 p.m. The smoke is still thick and burning embers are escaping into the frigid air.

A 100-foot-tall crane works to demolish the Masonic Hall for the safety of surrounding buildings.
The building was home to the Yankee Shoe Repair shop, River City Gallery and the Masonic Temple. The repair shop and gallery were on the first floor. The Masons had the upper three floors.

The Masons lost hundreds of priceless artifacts and antiques, including silverware forged by Paul Revere.

The Bangor Police Department's Mobile Crime Unit van is at the scene. A fire department official told WABI-TV that authorities have "a few leads" on what might have started the blaze.

No one was injured in the blaze; the building did not have apartments, the Masons were not in session and the two businesses had closed for the day.

Main Street remained closed from Union Street to Hammond Street throughout the day, and it will likely remain closed throughout the weekend as crews pick up demolition debris. Dozens of businesses had no choice but to remain closed throughout the day.

Bangorinfo.com will have more information and photos later tonight.

Text and photos Copyright Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.

January 16, 2004

Breaking news

Downtown fire gutting Masonic Hall building

Smoke and steam billow out the front of the Masonic Hall building on Main Street in downtown Bangor early Friday morning. The fire broke out shortly before 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
A fire broke out shortly before 8:30 p.m. yesterday at the former Masonic Hall building on Main Street in downtown Bangor. Police blocked off Main, Cross, Water and Middle streets as two ladder trucks, a Snorkel truck and several pumper trucks worked at the front and back of the building.

Thick, acrid smoke billowed steadily out the front windows of the building, with light winds blowing it over the roof and toward Key Plaza and Pickering Square.

Firefighters initially fought the blaze from inside the structure, but evacuated when the interior began to “fall apart,” according to WABI-TV’s 11 o’clock report.

There were no reports of injuries, initially. It was not known whether anybody was in the building when the fire broke out or what might have started the fire.

Bangor Hydro shut power off to surrounding buildings, including the Freese's apartment building across Water Street. As of 1:20 a.m., power had not been restored and Bangor Hydro told the police dispatcher that power would not return until "sometime after daylight," the dispatcher told an officer at the scene. The Red Cross was ready to provide shelter to downtown tenants affected by the outage.

Shortly after 11 p.m., firefighters had surrounded the 115-year-old building and were blasting it with water cannons from the ladder and Snorkel trucks and from stationary positions in front of the 4 1/2-story building.

Dangerous conditions inside the building forced firefighters to battle the blaze from outside, where the temperature was 13 below zero, with a wind chill of 38 below.
Dozens of curious onlookers dismissed the frigid temperatures to drive to the scene’s perimeter and watch from the warmth of their vehicles.

The building does not have any apartments, WABI reported. It is, however, home to two businesses: River City Gallery and a shoe repair shop. The Masons occupy the upper floors.

A steady torrent of water flowed down Water Street from the building, almost freezing instantly and clogging storm drains. The temperature at midnight was 13 below zero, with a wind chill of 38 below, according to the National Weather Service.

Firefighters from Brewer and Hampden were helping the Bangor firefighters, WABI reported.

The building was still burning as of 5:30 this morning and police said Main Street would be closed from Union Street to Hammond Street for most of the day because of water runoff. The Pickering Square parking garage might also be closed because of heavy water runoff and ice buildup near the bottom of Water Street.

The Main Street fire was the second of the day in the area. Earlier, crews from Glenburn, Hermon and Bangor battled a house fire in Glenburn, working in quick shifts to avoid injury from the frigid weather.

January 9, 2004

Capital Seven to sell Bangor Raceway to rival

A Las Vegas businessman who bought Bangor Raceway a little more than a year ago with plans to renovate Bass Park and add slot machines announced Thursday that he was selling the raceway’s operations to a bitter rival.

Shawn Scott’s announcement came before he was to resume testifying in front of the Maine Harness Racing Commission Thursday morning. Hearings to determine whether Scott should receive a harness racing license began on Dec. 16 and lasted four days before the commission recessed for the holidays.

Scott’s company, Capital Seven, showed off renovations to the Bass Park grandstand on Tuesday. On Dec. 30, representatives for Scott denied a report by an online gaming magazine that said Scott would sell the racetrack’s operations.

Upon hearing Scott’s announcement, the racing commission granted a request by Scott’s attorneys to delay the hearings for another day so Scott and Penn National, the company that will buy the racetrack’s operations, can close the sale.

The sale of Bangor Raceway’s operations to Penn National is a curious turn of events because Scott sued the owners of Scarborough Downs, claiming they had reneged on an oral agreement that would have made Scott a partner in the Downs’ quest to open a racino in southern Maine.

The Scarborough track hired Penn National to operate a proposed racino that had no home when Scarborough voters rejected slot machines at the track. Penn National and the Downs then sought approval from voters in Saco and Westbrook to build a racino in one of those communities. Voters in both communities went against the proposal in Dec. 30 referendums. Scott had financed a lawsuit filed by a Westbrook couple that sought to throw out the results of that community’s election.

A political action committee financed by Scott also waged an ad campaign against Penn National in southern Maine, claiming the company had been found guilty of money laundering. Penn National sued the PAC, accusing it of libel. A federal judge granted National an injunction that ordered the PAC to cease running the ad.

The money laundering claim involved a company that had sold two gaming operations to Penn National. It was that company, Pinnacle Entertainment, that had been convicted.

In four days of hearings, the Maine Harness Racing Commission heard testimony from Henry Jackson, who conducted the background check on Scott, an accountant hired by the state to examine Scott’s finances, associates of Scott and Scott himself.

Under questioning from Scott’s attorneys, Jackson told the commission that he did not look for information that would be in Scott’s favor. Scott’s attorneys told the commissioners that Jackson had misled them in a section of his report that said Scott had been involved in more than 30 lawsuits. Some of the suits involved companies Scott had bought interest in after the suits were filed, and at least one suit involved a personal injury claim that had nothing to do with racing operations.

An accountant hired by the state to examine Scott’s financial records said Scott did have the ability to run Bangor Raceway financially. To get a harness racing license in Maine, applicants must show they are financially responsible and of good moral character.

Although neither Penn National or Scott disclosed the sale price of the racetrack’s operations, Scott stands to come out of the deal in good shape despite investing almost $2 million into a campaign in Bangor and statewide to legalize slot machines at racetracks and despite investing more than $500,000 to renovate the Bass Park grandstand.

On Tuesday, Capital Seven officials unveiled the nearly finished renovations, which include carpeting, heating and new restrooms. Scott had planned to install 250 slot machines in the grandstand toward the end of February. After the racing season concluded this year, Capital planned to demolish the grandstand and build a larger building and slot machine parlor.

According to commissioner Jackson’s 32-page report on Scott, Scott paid 96 percent of Bangor Raceway’s $1.1 million price tag. Near the end of the first week of hearings, Scott announced he had bought the remaining shares to become the raceway operations’ sole owner. Scott’s take on the sale to Penn National will likely be more than three times that much because of the recent renovations and the potential financial windfall a slot machine parlor is expected to bring.

Because Penn National is a publicly traded company, it will eventually have to reveal how much it paid for the racetrack’s operations.

The pending sale of the track’s operations means the Bangor City Council will have to authorize a new development deal, but that should not take long.