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Oyster Bay mulls fate of historic, fire-damaged structure

The Mill Pond House, seen Sunday, March 23,

The Mill Pond House, seen Sunday, March 23, 2014, is the oldest home in Oyster Bay hamlet. The house was damaged in a fire on Saturday. Credit: Steve Pfost

Oyster Bay Town officials conferred with an architectural consultant and insurance adjusters Monday to determine if the historic Mill Pond House could be saved after a suspicious fire Saturday night.

"They are compiling their report so the town board and the supervisor can make a determination whether or not it needs to be taken down or it can be repaired," said Leonard Genova, town attorney and deputy supervisor.

In the interim, town crews Monday boarded up openings in the walls and roof of the 334-year-old structure.

Preservationists, meanwhile, urged officials not to rush to tear down the town-owned landmark, one of the oldest buildings in Oyster Bay hamlet, without a thorough examination by architects and engineers with expertise in Colonial-era buildings.

Architect Michael Spinelli, a principal in the Hauppauge consulting firm Cashin Spinelli & Ferretti LLC and a member of the town Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the adjusters examined the damage Monday morning.

A tour inside revealed the fire burned upward from a central room in the mid-20th century addition into the attic and moved east. Flames charred rafters and burned holes through the roof in the central and eastern sections and the walls in the southeast corner of the second floor. Most of the second-floor windows were blown out or broken.

Oyster Bay Historical Society executive director Philip Blocklyn said, "It's an important building and it needs to be preserved. Whoever is advising the town in terms of architecture and engineering needs a background in this sort of building; it's a 17th or early 18th century heavy-timber structure."

He said it appeared that "the damage is primarily limited to the 20th century addition to the house." That should make removal or reconstruction of that area affordable, he said.

Blocklyn and other leaders of the Oyster Bay Preservation Roundtable, which encompasses historical groups and operators of historical structures around the hamlet, were drafting a letter to Supervisor John Venditto urging restoration.

Alexandra Wolfe, director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, said "they shouldn't rush into demolition where there may be an opportunity to restore what's left, especially if it's a fact that most of the historic part of the building has survived."

After a small fire damaged one room March 17, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said, "Public safety intensified their patrols and the frequency of their visits." But there was no fire alarm.

In 2008, the town purchased the two-acre property from developer Charles Wang for $1.9 million. The house was declared a landmark by the town in 1976 and officials have been considering restoration, at a cost estimated in 2012 to be as much as $5 million, or demolition and construction of a replica.

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