Stores, church recover from damage

March 16, 2007
By


Gazette Photo by John Swan
The former Century 21 where arson struck.

The beauty shop in Hyde Square whose storefront was crashed into last month by a van has temporarily relocated. Meanwhile, some businesses on Centre, South and Washington streets, devastated last year by fire, have already come back or are set to reopen. A church that was charred in an accidental fire in 2005 is moving ahead with restoration plans.

Ultra Beauty and Health Shop has temporarily relocated from 401 Centre St. to JP Plaza at 315 Centre St. and was “full of customers,” beginning its first day, according to Terry Bruce of 401 Centre LLC, which owns the building where the shop used to be.

Bruce said they are meeting with insurance adjusters now. She said she hopes the building will be restored within three months.

Arson victims
The block on Centre Street where Century 21 Pondside Realty was firebombed last August remains vacant at all five storefronts.

The former Century 21 location, 619 Centre St., as well as one other store on the block, have boarded windows with a mural of a floral scene with brown, green and yellow autumnal colors.

The remaining storefronts on the block are also boarded. Two have been tagged with black graffiti. Century 21 has relocated farther down Centre Street.

According to Ludmila Rodrigues, who works for Christ Stamatos, the owner of the building at 619 Centre St. and Century 21, Stamatos is waiting for city permits before starting any renovation. This would include going through the zoning Board of Appeal as well as a community process, she said.

In contrast to the Centre Street arson site, on Washington and on South streets, progress is being made.

The owner of the building at 138-142 South St. that was hit by arson last March, Nick Skourtis, said to the Gazette, “We are doing plumbing and electrical work right now. I’m going to be very happy as soon as I have the place open and running again.”

Skourtis previously told the Gazette the building will look like new and will not have security grates, fixtures many, including the local Jamaica Pond Association, do not favor. The arsonist reportedly pried open the security grate before setting the fire.

Skourtis said Maria’s Hair Salon, Felix Pizzeria and Botanica San Miguel are returning to the site. An office and a real estate company will occupy the remaining two spaces, he said.

Construction may be completed by the end of this month or early April, Skourtis said.

According to the last reports by the Gazette, William Kilroy, the owner of the Forest Hills Dental building at Washington and Tower streets that burned last August, said all the businesses were coming back. He said the process of gutting and renovation had started.

Kilroy did not return Gazette phone calls seeking comment for this article. The fire is still under investigation, though early reports suggested it was accidental.

According to Sam Salmon, spokesperson for the Boston Fire Department (BFD), all three fire investigations remain open, as last reported by the Gazette in October. Further information could not be revealed, due to the confidential nature of the investigation, he said.

“I’m sure if there was an arrest it would be well publicized,” said Salmon.

Skourtis said he called BFD a few days ago and was told the same information.

“I’m not going to say it’s a poor investigation,” said Skourtis. “I don’t know. I think they [BFD] are doing an excellent job. But if they find information I’m the last guy who is going to figure it out. They have to take them [the accused] to court and make sure it’s the right person. I guess that’s just how they do it.”

Last year, in response to the fires, Jamaica Plain Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS) held a fund-raiser to generate funds for the affected businesses.

More than $8,000 was raised by the JP Cooks for a Cause event last November, and by those who sent in donations to the fire fund.

“We just collected the money raised from our fire fund, and now we are about to distribute it to the businesses,” said Sharon Touw of JP CSMS in a Gazette interview.

“We are just happy many of the businesses are coming back to the neighborhood,” she said.

Church
The First Baptist Church at 633 Centre St. that burned in an accidental fire in January, 2005 has hired a firm to renovate the church. Last month, the church’s congregation voted to approve two-phase renovation plans, the first phase of which could be completed within 10 months,
according to Pastor Ashlee Wiest-Laird.

“We’re just thrilled we’ve finally reached this point,” she said. “I feel very good about the folks we’re working with now.”

Mark Truant and Associates, Inc. of Cambridge is the contracting firm that will oversee construction.

The pastor said that firm was selected because of its experience and team approach. Truant and Associates has renovated other churches, including the sanctuary at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge.

Church representatives are also in the process of hiring a development coordinator to facilitate the capital planning process to raise additional finances to pay for the renovation.

Insurance will provide $2.7 million, but the estimated cost of Phase 1—which will gut the church, stabilize the infrastructure and establish a ground floor parish hall with office space, classroom space and a kitchen— is $3.2 million.

According Wiest-Laird, if everything goes according to plan with the building permits and similar legal matters, the church could be cleared out by Easter Sunday, April 8. She said the church could be gutted by the end of April, and construction could begin as early as May.

The church’s pending suit with the Cambridge Mutual Fire Insurance company against two companies that installed the church’s furnace, whom they allege bear “fault for the fire,” is still in the process of documents and discovery, the pastor said.

“Our Lenten promise is to ‘Make space for God,’” said Wiest-Laird, in a joking but serious manner, referring to people’s lives and rebuilding the church. “They [the builders] know we’re ready to go.”

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