Update: Front Wall Stable, Work Continues Wednesday

Main Street eastbound remains closed between North and Franklin avenue.

6:25 p.m., Feb. 15, 2011: Work at the charred remains of the Union Baptist Church continued until nightfall. City of New Rochelle spokeswoman Kathy Gilwit provided an update from Buildings official Paul Vaca and Fire Commissioner Raymond Kiernan.

They said the front wall of the church has been stabilized and the side wall was worked on until dark. Stones are being dropped inside the church. Work will continue Wednesday.

Hot spots in the ruins continue to be a problem. An excavator will be brought in Wednesday through the rear of the church near the old rectory to move or remove smoldering debris. ConEd wrapped the overhead wires in preparation of the debris removal.

Main Street eastbound remains closed between North and Franklin avenues. The city hopes to be able to open on lane Wednesday.


9:40 a.m., Feb. 15, 2011: Crews have begun removing the remaining stone gables of Union Baptist Church. City of New Rochelle spokeswoman Kathy Gilwit said the stone will be taken down to the flat line of the remaining walls.

She said they were the part of the structure that were the most "comprised."

As the portion of the wall is removed, Gilwit said, it will be determined whether any more of the structure should be taken down. She said the decisions are being made with in consoltation with the city, the church's engineer and an engineer for Monroe College, because the eastern part of the building abuts college property that contains classrooms.

Firefighters have been pulled from the scene but the department is still monitoring the situation because there are still hot spots in the church's basement.

Main Street eastbound is still closed between North and Franklin avenues. Gilwit said a contractor will begin cleaning up debris from the fire and firefighting efforts on Main Street.


5:33 a.m., Feb. 15, 2011: Fire may have temporarily relocated the Union Baptist Church congregation, but it hasn’t dampened their spirits.

Union Baptist Church Pastor Reginald L. Hudson and his congregation gathered inside the Monroe College athletic complex in New Roc City, huddled on bleachers while reporters kept a respectful distance. 

“It’s difficult, it’s painful,” said Hudson wearily in response to an inquiry as to his current state of mind.

Describing his work with the church as a “life-changing experience ... a spiritual foundation to get refreshed to work with God,” Hudson remained optimistic in the face of adversity.

“Already, there’s been such a positive attitude from everyone, it’s brought us together,” he said, continuing, “there’s been so much support—we’re excited about rebuilding and focused in that direction now.”

The Fellowship will continue this Sunday, said Reginald, but a venue has not yet been confirmed.

The fire was reported around 1:30 a.m. Monday by a Monroe College student. The blaze quickly went to five alarms, calling in surrounding fire companies. The wooden parts of the structure were incinerated and the stained glass windows were blown out.

Reverend Malcolm Hudson of Christian Outreach Hope Ministries in Mount Vernon—also the brother of the Union Baptist pastor—took pictures of the church from behind the still-fluttering police tape on Main Street.

Malcolm Hudson, who used to take care of Union Baptist before working with Christian Outreach, said this was the second travesty that the church has had to overcome.  Five years ago, a tornado knocked down one of the church walls, rendering the sanctuary unusable for one year.

He was confident the church members were strong enough to remain a group.

“You’re only as strong as what you believe,” Malcolm Hudson said, referring to the strength of the congregation’s faith.

The blaze, which began sometime around 1 a.m. this morning, spread from the front steeple of the church into the main section of the building. Although the visible remnants of the fire appeared to be extinguished, firefighters continued to spray water into the church throughout the day Monday.

They will keep watch on the fire for the new few days, said Fire Commissioner Raymond Kiernan. High winds in the forecast could fan the flames.

This afternoon, bright skies and unseasonably warm temperatures contrasted visibly with the somber mood of the small crowd of reporters, police and firefighters who lingered outside of the church as they watched the charred remains of the building tossed around by the wind.

The cause of the fire that destroyed the Union Baptist Church in downtown New Rochelle Monday is still unknown.

Mayor Noam Bramson said he spoke with Fire Commissioner Raymond Kiernan and was told it was “uncertain whether the cause would ever be known.”

“The structural integrity of the building is being evaluated as we speak,” Bramson said. “Public safety has to be our prime consideration.”

Mayor Noam Bramson was at the scene of the fire around 2:30 a.m. Monday and returned two other times.

“This is, first and foremost, a terrible blow for the members of Union Baptist Church,” he said. “But it’s also a great loss for our entire community.

“All people of faith and all people who care about New Rochelle recognize that this is a moment when the neighbors need to support each other,” Bramson said.

“We are also greatly saddened by the potential loss of one of our most notable historic structures,” he said.

The building was built in 1904 and served one of New Rochelle’s earliest African-American religious organizations, which was established in 1913, according to City Historian Barbara Davis. The structure was listed on the Westchester Inventory of Historic Places in 1993, the first New Rochelle site to be chosen.

Councilman Albert Tarantino, R-District 2, said he felt sickened by the fire.

“Everybody is a little in shock,” he said, “especially when it hits something so historic.”

Part of New Rochelle’s past just disappeared, Tarantino said.

“The hope is they will be able to rebuild,” he said. “From the city’s point of view, we will do everything we can” to expedite the process.

Tarantino and Bramson were both grateful the firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading.

“This could have been far worse,” Bramson said.

Kiernan said 100 firefighters from New Rochelle, White Plains, Larchmont, Greenville (Greenburg) and the Town of Mamaroneck responded to the blaze. Firefighters from Pelham and Hartsdale covered vacant firehouses.

There were only three minor injuries, Kiernan said, from smoke inhalation. All were treated and released.

The New Rochelle Fire Department will begin its investigation Tuesday to try to determine the cause. City and church officials will assess the viability of the structure Tuesday as well.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the fire was reported at 1:30 p.m Monday. It was reported at 1:30 a.m. Patch regrets the error.


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