Lighthouse Inn owner begins cleanup work, fire investigation continues
New London — It took Alwyn Christy five years to get the Lighthouse Inn rehabilitated to the point where he could reopen its restaurant.
Because of Thursday’s fire, he estimates it will take at least two weeks before he can start serving food again.
The fire damaged the upper floors of the historical structure — the restaurant website lists the address as 6 W. Guthrie Place — and left Christy to clean out the water left over from an effort by firefighters that saved the building. Christy was busy Friday directing cleanup crews, calling insurance companies and meetings with officials from the city’s building department and fire marshal’s office.
“We’re just cleaning up, trying to get all of the water up and securing the building to survive this weekend’s weather,” Christy said. Rain was forecast for Friday and Saturday.
The fire severely damaged a portion of the roof, along with the ceilings and walls on the second and third floors, which were not yet part of the renovation of the inn. Firefighters opened up the roof and knocked out windows as part of the firefighting effort. Except for the water, the main dining areas were not impacted.
Fire Marshal Vernon Skau said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. He confirmed that one focus of the investigation is on the work being performed to install a Lighthouse Inn sign above the first-floor windows.
Christy said he thinks the cause of the fire was “an honest mistake” but declined to comment further because of the ongoing investigation.
“The good thing is we were lucky enough to save the building,” Christy said.
He said visits by the fire department prior to the opening helped.
“If they hadn’t all been here to look at everything, who knows. All of them knew what to do and where to go. That was good. They knew what they had to do and did it,” Christy said.
The restaurant had been opened for four hours a day and was working toward a full reopening when the fire occurred. Christy said there were 268 who had reserved a spot for a Mother’s Day brunch. He said he looked forward to the return of the crowds that had come out over the past few weeks.
Last week alone, Christy said more than 400 people had come through the doors, many to reminisce about past days of the local landmark that had closed abruptly in 2008. Built in 1902 as the home of Charles S. Guthrie, a Pittsbugh steel magnate, the building became Lighthouse Inn in 1926. It was a popular venue for weddings, anniversaries and other special events.
“There was a lot of laughter and a lot of talk. I heard all of these stories, people talking about how significant this was in their lives," Christy said. "It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had.”
People have been stopping by to show support for Christy as he tackles the cleanup work.
“That meant a lot to me. It’s what’s keeping me going right now ... the people stopping by and saying we want you to go back and fix it,” Christy said. “I have a lot of support from everybody in town. It’s just amazing. Everybody’s helping me out. That’s what I’m leaning on right now.”