Richard Albano wept while watching his dream home burn to the ground last month. Now he says he will use photographs and floor plans to rebuild the historic Ebo Hill mansion.
“I will do whatever I need to do,” he said last week outside the Edgewood Avenue ruins in Smithtown.
The 1845 mansion, home to generations of the town’s founding Smith family, had belonged to Albano 18 days when it burned March 26. What remained: part of a staircase; a pillar, toppled and charred; and plaster and brick. Next to the house sat 20 pallets of roofing shingles, unused and melted.
The fire may have started when an ember sucked up from the massive ballroom fireplace ignited the second floor, Albano said, citing an insurance company fire investigator.
Suffolk police were still investigating the fire last week, a department spokeswoman said.
Albano said he hadn’t been eligible for homeowner’s coverage during the renovation. He did have builder’s risk insurance, but any payout will take into account roughly 173 years of depreciation on the home, he said. He declined to reveal the value of the policy, but said it would likely cover “10 to 15 percent of what it will cost to rebuild.”
Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said in an email that Albano “is looking at a sizable financial loss,” citing information from the town assessor and planning department. “I am not alone in saying that we are very pleased that he is going to restore a piece of Smithtown history to its original beauty.”
Ebo Hill was a community landmark, but it had been decrepit for decades before Albano bought it. The weeks of work he and a small hired crew had spent restoring it made him a local celebrity. It was a new and exciting role for Albano, who makes his living flipping houses and also owns two pizzerias.
“People I’d never met would thank me. Neighbors would thank me,” he said. “I was proud of that.” After the fire, he said, “I felt like I’d let everyone down.”
He despaired partly because he knew that, despite his promise, there were parts of the house that couldn’t be replicated. More than a century ago, on a steel I-beam running across the dining room ceiling, a workman had hand-painted “E.M. Smith,” likely a reference to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, who worked in the China tea trade in the mid-19th century and was one of the home’s owners. “That lettering is gone,” Albano said. The larder once cooled by an ingenious system that pumped water up from the Nissequogue River was ruined, along with the two-foot hinge on the larder door. “It melted,” Albano said.
In recent weeks, two well-meaning neighbors and a friend started online fundraisers without his knowledge to help with rebuilding costs, Albano said; embarrassed, he asked that they be canceled.
He has hired a local architect, Todd O’Connell, who told him it would take about four weeks to draw up new plans.
Sitting in a car outside the ruins, Albano said he had no idea how long rebuilding would take. He confessed to feeling “a little lost.” But he was determined.
He said, “I’ll make them proud once again of this home.”