By MIKE STANTON with reports from Tatiana Pina | Providence Journal
Thursday, January 13, 2011
For more than a century, the elegant clubhouse of the Edgewood Yacht Club stood sentinel at the head of Narragansett Bay, a family-oriented place where generations of children learned to sail, grew up, celebrated their weddings and then passed their experiences on to their own children.
Rebuilt on 154 wooden pilings above the Providence River in 1908 after fire destroyed the original Victorian clubhouse, the cedar-shingled building with its familiar red cupola, grand wraparound porches and sailing pennants fluttering in the breeze had withstood storms and hurricanes, including 1954’s Hurricane Carol that sent waves rushing over the second-floor railings.
But a pre-dawn fire at the height of Wednesday’s snowstorm consumed the Edgewood landmark, burning the historic building down to its pilings despite the heroic efforts of firefighters who battled the elements, including driving snow and a fierce wind that blew the water from their hoses back at them.
The cause of the fire is unknown, and remains under investigation by the state fire marshal. Neighborhood residents reported seeing lightning and hearing thunder around the time the fire was reported, at 3:40 am. Cranston firefighters responded [soon after].
By midday, as firefighters sprayed water on the building’s charred, skeletal remains, 66-year-old Bill Plumb stood on the snowy shore in grief and disbelief.
“That’s my life,” he said. “My grandfather was commodore in 1933-34. My father was commodore in 1959 and 1960. I was commodore in 1977. I used to sleep there when I was the steward. When I was 10, I swam out a second-floor window after Hurricane Carol. A lot of children learned to sail here. There were a lot of wedding receptions. It brings back a lot of memories. It will always have a place in Edgewood’s heart.”
Nobody was killed or seriously injured in the blaze. The wind and the efforts of firefighters helped spare the boatyard on the clubhouse’s north side, which held about 30 boats, including those of the Brown University sailing team, which races there.
The club’s network of docks also remains intact.
Club leaders had been inside on Tuesday night, hanging plaques and arranging trophies to complete renovations of the Darby Room. A membership meeting had been planned for Wednesday night.
Jeffrey Lanphear, who became the club’s commodore 12 days ago, vowed to rebuild a community institution that remains alive in its 200-plus members.
“We lost the most beautiful building on Narragansett Bay,” said Lanphear, 53, who grew up in Edgewood and traces his childhood back to the yacht club, where his father was also commodore. “It was our second most-valuable asset, a spectacular, irreplaceable building. But our most valuable asset is our members. The club will survive.”
Eight inches of snow was already on the ground, and it was snowing heavily. According to Deputy Chief Bernard Patenaude, all 50 Cranston firefighters on duty – a larger-than-normal contingent on hand because of the snowstorm – responded.
Meanwhile, firefighters from Providence and North Providence covered the rest of Cranston, while Providence, Warwick, East Providence, Johnston and West Warwick firefighters also responded to the scene.
The thick snow and smoke that hung like a fog over the neighborhood obscured the flames that engulfed the building. Patenaude said that firefighters entered the clubhouse and tried to fight the fire from within, fanning out on the first and second floors. But within minutes, part of the roof had started to collapse and Patenaude said he pulled his firefighters safely out.
A strong northeasterly wind made it hard to fight the fire from the shore, but kept the flames away from the adjacent boatyard. Fireboats from East Providence and Warwick helped fight the fire from the water.
[...] Plumb said that firefighters told him the fire apparently broke out in the southeast corner of the building, on the second floor, near a bar in a large function room that is popular for wedding receptions and parties. The building did not have sprinklers, nor was it required to under fire codes.
Andy Burkhardt, another yacht club member who lives a block away, said that the club was just about finished with major renovations to its Darby Room, including construction of new trophy cases. Repairs in recent years included an upgrade of the building’s electrical system. Many of those plaques and trophies, commemorating past race winners and club members, were consumed by the fire. But some, including the Henry Ford Cup, which was presented to the club by the automobile inventor early in the 20th century, are in storage at the nearby William Hall Library.
The clubhouse had a mortgage and insurance, though not enough to cover the cost of rebuilding such a magnificent structure, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the club’s founding.
The yacht club is at the end of Shaw Avenue, on a steep street off Narragansett Boulevard that slopes down to the water. Across the boulevard, farther up Shaw, Lanphear said he was awakened at 4:30 a.m. when a neighbor and fellow club leader came by to tell him that the clubhouse was on fire.
“My wife, Kathy, and I went down and saw the destruction in progress,” said Lanphear, who is a Rhode Island Superior Court judge. “The firefighters did a tremendous job in terrible conditions.”
The Lanphears and other club members huddled on the porch of a cottage that the club owns near the clubhouse, and which may wind up being the group’s clubhouse until a more permanent solution can be reached. Many of the observers cried, said Plumb.
As word spread through the sailing community, friends posted condolences and reminiscences on the Edgewood Yacht Club’s Facebook page.
“I am heartbroken,” wrote one woman, Deirdre Hession Cerasa, who grew up atop the hill overlooking the club, but now lives out of state. “My sister and brothers and I sailed at the club and met many lifelong friends. During hurricanes our side yard was the landing spot for beetles pulled from the water. We played Ping-Pong in the junior room and ran down the docks, called for the crash boat from our mooring. Snacks from Ernie and dances, even for the younger kids. I could go on and on but my tears prevent it. Thank you to EYC for an idyllic childhood (also Mom and Dad).”
Said Kathy Lanphear, “Walking back up the hill and turning back and not seeing the cupola and the flagpole – that really drove it home.”
[...] On Wednesday, Lanphear vowed that the club will go on, that boats will sail again from the scene of that morning’s fire, that children will continue to learn to sail there. “The sails are gone, but the boats are there,” he said. “We’ll come up with something.”
From the National Register Nomination form (Listed: 02/23/1989):
The oldest yacht clubhouse in the state, the Edgewood Yacht Club (1908, Murphy, Hindle & Wright, architects) is the only remaining example of a group once relatively common in this ocean-oriented state. Its form and siting typify those of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century seaside clubhouses. The club which erected and still occupies the building played an important role in promotion of yacht racing in Narragansett Bay.
Established at this location in 1885 as the Edgewood Boat Club, this organization served the nascent, upper-middle-class suburb of Edgewood and included only a group of bayside bathhouses. The Club was formally incorporated as the Edgewood Yacht Club in 1889, and a clubhouse, which replaced the various temporary structures here, was constructed in 1903; its incineration in 1908 necessitated the construction of this structure.
Built on pilings in the water with docks extending into the bay, this building follows the format established for yacht clubs and boat houses in the nineteenth century and continued through the first four decades of the twentieth century. Most, like this one, were two stories high with circumferential verandas: the porches were important functionally to catch the sea breezes and to provide ample room for lolling and watching approaching vessels and their very form recalls the decks of ships. The interiors of these structures were invariably utilitarian, usually finished with matchboard paneling. Similar structures stood nearby to serve the Rhode Island Yacht Club and the Washington Park Yacht Club; perhaps the most elaborate of the genre was the Narragansett Boat Club on the Seekonk in Providence. All others have disappeared, prey to hurricanes in their vulnerable seaside settings, or destroyed by fires.
ElJiffy Sep 16 2015 Why not rebuild it?
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