Published August 22. 2013 12:00PM Updated August 23. 2013 1:12PM
New London — The owner of the historic Bacon Building on State Street vowed Thursday to rebuild the 155-year-old building that was partially destroyed Wednesday by a stubborn fire on the fourth floor that spread to the roof.
"I'm going to do it again,'' William Cornish said. The building at 130 State St. includes 17 apartments and three storefronts. Cornish bought the building in 2002 and spent more than $1 million renovating it.
Cornish stood Thursday in an empty storefront where, he said, a tattoo parlor had been expected to open. He listened to the sound of dripping water among the mess of broken pipes and ceiling tiles.
"This is what it looked like when I bought it,'' he said.
Two businesses on the street level, Zambala Grocery at 128 State St. and Monica's State Street Diner at 138 State St., remained closed because of water damage.
"It's difficult to see it," Zambala owner Dakpa Gyaltsen said as he waited for officials from the state Department of Revenue Services to come and claim their lottery equipment. The dropped ceiling in the store had caved in from water damage. All the inventory is destroyed, he said.
"We have no idea what we will do next,'' he said of the business he opened five years ago. "We want to re-open, but it won't be for a couple months."
Monica Rossi, who has owned Monica's State Street Diner for nearly 11 years, also said that despite the "waterfall of water and soot" in her restaurant, she plans to reopen.
"We will rebuild and be open for everyone,'' Rossi said as she sat in a window seat at the restaurant across the street from hers. "Everyone is going to help each other out."
Rossi said she has insurance, including "business interruption insurance," so her six employees will continue to receive their paychecks, at least for a while.
The buildings on either side of the fire-damaged structure, which include apartments as well as Sarge's Comics and Mangetout restaurant, were open for business at about noon Thursday. They were shut down when the power was turned off to the entire city block.
Fire Marshal Calvin Darrow said the Bacon Building is condemned until an engineering review is done to determine the extent of damage.
Fire Chief Henry Kydd said the cause of the fire is under investigation, but it appears to have started in the rear of the building on the fourth floor. The fire was in the roof, above the sprinklers, he said. Firefighters were forced to use chainsaws and crowbars to pry off roofing material to reach the flames.
During the height of the blaze, all New London firefighters and equipment were at the scene, he said, and were assisted by departments from Norwich, Waterford, Poquonnock Bridge, the Naval Submarine Base and the Mohegan Tribe. East Lyme and Montville departments manned the city's firehouses, he said.
"The region responded well,'' Kydd said. "It's a testament to our mutual aid agreements. ... I'm very pleased and very proud."
Three New London firefighters were injured and taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where they were treated for heat exhaustion or leg injuries. All three will be out of work until cleared by doctors, Kydd said.
Although the building is condemned, residents were being allowed in to retrieve personal belongings.
Rodney Chichester, who manages Hot Rod Café on nearby Bank Street, was picking through the charred remains in his studio apartment on the third floor.
"There's the skylight I always wanted,'' he said, "just not the way I wanted it."
He said he was able to grab his computer and his wallet after he heard smoke detectors going off and smelled the smoke.
"I was just walking around in a daze for few hours yesterday,'' he said, as he watched firefighters spend hours trying to contain the fire and put it out.
Chichester worked Wednesday night.
"What else was I going to do?'' he said. He was staying with Rod Cornish, who owns Hot Rod and is the son Bill Cornish.
Another Hot Rod employee, Lindsey Ducheneau, lived on the top floor of the four-story building with her boyfriend and 12-week-old daughter. She said her kitchen and bathroom were destroyed and smoke damaged much of her furniture, including her bed, a crib and a sectional couch.
"All I care about is the baby's things and my breast milk,'' she said, which she had stored in a refrigerator/freezer. "It could have been a lot worse."
The family is staying at her parents' house.