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VERY LATEST UPDATES: Fire Island Pines Harbor Engulfed in Flames; Pavilion Destroyed

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Friday Nov 18, 2011

A fast moving fire destroyed the Pavilion and an adjacent building in the Fire Island Pines commercial district late in the evening on Monday, Nov. 14.

Update Thursday 4 p.m.: The Pavilion site will probably not be rebuilt as a "big-box" nightclub. The owners of the space told Newsday that the three men are evaluating their options. "We're evaulating all our options," co-owner Matthew Blesso told the newspaper. Bob Howard, a veteran real estate broker, whose office was also decimated in the blaze, said, ""There will be a lot of moaning about it because the Pavilion is considered to be the granddaddy of discos in the gay world. But time goes on. Nothing stays open forever." He may have been speaking for several observers. Speculation is building that the footprint of the club, the largest dance space on Fire Island, will not be replicated. In recent years, the hours have scaled back, as an all-night dance, which once ended as late as Sunday early afternoon, last season routinely ended by 3 a.m. -- early, by New York City club standards.

Update Wednesday 4 p.m.: The Sip 'N' Twirl has been bulldozed. A decision is pending on razing the Pavilion, because of concerns about a hot spot under the building. Look below for more updates and check into this URL for updates on the situation in Pines Harbor as it unfolds.

Initial reports indicate the blaze broke out around 9:15 p.m. It quickly engulfed the Pavilion, the town's premier nightclub, C.F. LaFountaine's properties, the Sip N' Twirl bar and dance space, the Pines Bistro and a bayfront home. Walter Boss of the Fire Island Pines Fire Department confirmed the damage at 11:20 p.m.

Businesses north of the Pavilion along the harbor appear to have been scathed. Three hundred firefighters from the Pines, Ocean Bay Park, Davis Park, Point O' Woods, Cherry Grove, Ocean Beach, Fair Harbor, Saltaire, Kismet, East Islip, West Islip, Hagerman, Sayville, Bellport, Great River and Bay Shore responded in the largest response to a fire on Long Island since the Sunrise Fires scorched thousands of acres of pine barrens near the Hamptons in 1995. There are no reported injuries.

The fire comes at an opportune time, well after the season, when nearly all the buildings are abandoned for the long winter and only the most skeletal of crews -- many, if not most, of whom are members of the local volunteer Fire Department -- remain. At most, there may be 50 people, more likely 30, on the island to fight this blaze, the worst the community has seen since a fire destroyed the original Botel in 1959.

Late reports have it that the Pavilion's roof had been destroyed. The original Pavilion, which opened in 1980, quickly established itself as one of the most influential gay dance clubs in the world. Despite its small size and isolation, it made the reputations of many DJs and recording artists.

It was replaced by a huge new complex constructed by the now-former owner, Eric von Kuersteiner, a few years ago. The Pavilion underwent a substantial renovation last year under its three new owners. The Pavilion complex, the largest in the community with the Community House, which lies away from the downtown harbor area, includes offices, a general store, and a large complex of upstairs lounge spaces.

The Sip 'n' Twirl, originally the Crews Quarters, is a Pines institution. It sits one walk off the harbor area, on Pickety Ruff Walk. The bar complex houses a large bar, a dance space, a pool table and a large outdoor balcony. Adjacent to it and below is the Pines Bistro, a restaurant. According to reports this entire complex, affectionally referred to as the LaFountaine Mini-Mall, is up in flames.

The complex is named for its original owner and developer, Claren LaFountaine, a local who moved to the just-opened community of Fire Island Pines in the early '50s. His progeny now control the property. Apparently, the buildings north of the Pavilion, including Pines Pantry, the town's major grocery store, have not been effected.

Fire Island Pines is a lush beach community surrounded by outgrowths of native and imported fauna, including the eponymous pines. While making the community perhaps the most beautiful on all of Fire Island, it also contributes to a sense of dread about the consequences of fire, which has consumed many homes over the years.

Now, the homeowners, businesspeople and many visitors will once again be reminded that the name "Fire Island" contains within it terror and destruction.

"Please remember Fire Island Pines is more then just buildings, it is an institution, it is a community," posted Sip N' Twirl owner P.J. McAteer shortly after the fire. "We will survive!"

Located on the eastern end of the long (32-mile) barrier island off the south coast of New York's Long Island, the Pines and the Grove are only two of nearly two dozen beach communities that hug the ocean. The rest of the island comprises the Fire Island National Seashore, a national park. The two towns are predominately gay. Every year, they attract visitors from all over the world.

Updates as of Wednesday morning:
• Bulldozers are expected to demolish the remains of the buildings later this morning.
• 300 firefighters from 31 departments responded.
• The response was the largest to a fire in Eastern Long Island since the Sunrise Fire scorched thousands of acres in the Pine Barrens in 1995.

Statement from the head of the Property Owners Association
What follows is a statement that Jay Pagano, the president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association, sent out the group's members:

"I came over this morning with a boat of emergency personnel being brought in to assist and replace fire fighters who were exhausted by fighting the fire all night and morning. I am sure many of you have seen the pictures posted on the various social media. It is indeed a grim scene with smoke billowing from the wreckage of the Pavilion and Lafountaine building which houses the Sip n' Twirl. I am told by our fire department that the two buildings are a total loss. They have been condemned and equipment is being brought in to demolish the buildings. The demolition is necessary because it will assist in putting out the fire.

"We were fortunate that five of our Pines volunteer firemen were in the community and able to respond immediately to the fire. They are Walter Boss, David Seeds, Eddie Candreva, Bo Fridsberg and Rob Sperte. At the height of the fire there were 300 fire fighters from 32 fire departments from other Fire Island and Long Island communities.

"It is believed that the fire began in a space between the Pavilion building and the LaFountaine building and it spread quickly because of very high winds. One possibility is that the fire was caused by a electrical cart being charged. The fire spread as far as the Canteen and to a house across the harbor.

"I have talked to all of the affected business owners. They wish me to assure you that they will re-build as quickly as possible and build better. The LaFountaine offices will move to temporary accommodations by next week and will be up and running."

Pavilion Co-Owner's Statement
What follows is a statement from Andrew Kirtzman, one of the three co-owners of the Pavilion, as well as Hotel Ciel, the Blue Whale restaurant, Canteen and properties in-between these.

"This is is obviously a very difficult night for all of us, and I wanted to give everyone a status report from the scene of the fire. I am outside the Pavilion building, surrounded by over 100 firefighters from across Long Island. The fire is under control but is not completely out. Both the Pavilion and LaFountaine buildings are still standing, but they have been completely gutted by fire and water. Sip n' Twirl, the Bistro and the stores below them are in ruin. Then roof over the Pavilion is gone, and the high tea deck has been destroyed. Small fires are still burning inside the Pavilion - the dance floor - and it's too dangerous for firefighters to enter inside. The department has called for bulldozers to be brought here from across the bay, as it may be safer to destroy the Pavilion altogether rather than fight the remaining blazes. It is an unfathomable moment. The air in the harbor is still thick with smoke, but the fire has not spread anywhere else, thanks to the incredible work of the Pines Fire Department and the departments that raced to its aid. Firefighters will be here through the night to ensure that no flames re-ignite and create a new threat to the other properties. Canteen, Blue Whale, the hotel and Pantry are all fine. The Suffolk Country Fire Department believes the fire began outside the LaFountaine office, engulfed that building and then spread to the Pavilion. Officials tell me they don't believe the fire to be suspicious. Seth, Matt and I want to thank you all for your notes and phone calls. Everyone has a stake in these properties, and the love and passion we all feel for them are ringing loud and clearly this painful evening. Tomorrow morning, Seth, Matt and I will begin the process of renewing this beautiful property and making it even more spectacular than it was before. Our hearts go out to Nicole LaFountaine, Patrick, PJ, Bob Howard and others in the LaFountaine building, and we will help one another get the commercial district ready for summer 2012. There is a lot of hard work ahead for all of us. We feel blessed that no one was injured.

Sip 'N' Twirl Owner's Statement
The following statement was released on Wednesday evening by P.J. Patrick, owner of the Sip 'N' Twirl bar:

"Last night's fire. If you're not aware, it destroyed the building housing Sip·n·Twirl, the Pines Bistro & Martini Bar, and Pines Pizza, as well as the building next door, home to the Pavilion, and additional important Pines community businesses, located in both structures."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


  • , 2011-11-15 00:21:19

    Sad story hope everyone is alright

  • , 2011-11-15 06:57:07

    Sorry to hear the ( badly remodeled) Pavillion went ablaze; thank god this didn’t happen during high season because running g out of that architectural he’ll hole would have been a larger disaster. Also sad the fire took other adjacent businesses with it. The bright side is, it shall be rebuilt with proper fire codes and exits this time.

  • , 2011-11-15 11:42:09

    (well the sky is still blue, I presume that the fish still swim, and we’ll be there in 2012)

  • , 2011-11-15 13:20:04

    so the chances of a rebuild by Summer 2012: maybe yes, maybe no... can only mean one thing: a return to the days of fabulous HOUSE PARTIES !!!

  • , 2011-11-15 22:45:37

    Yesyesyes.. Fabulous house parties indeed.

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