Owner of Saratoga rowhouses hopes to save facades
Israel plans to rebuild destroyed brownstones
SARATOGA SPRINGS The owner of a row of brownstones gutted by fire early Sunday said he plans to do his best to save the facade of the Woodlawn Avenue buildings.
“We’re hopefully optimistic,” Robert Israel said of preserving the front of the late-19th century rowhouses.
The front of 106 and 108 Woodlawn Ave. present the biggest stabilization challenges because that part of the building was most heavily damaged, Israel said. The fire also damaged 104, 102 and 100 Woodlawn Ave.
He said it’s too early to say whether he will propose keeping the same building footprint and configuration, but he does plan to propose another multi-family structure and hopes to get the city’s approval to make that happen.
“We are going to rebuild,” Israel said. “I’ve been preserving buildings for 35 years.”
The facades were relatively undamaged compared to the rest of the rowhouses. Part of their rear was reduced to rubble and the rest is unstable, the roof collapsed and most of the interior destroyed. Water damaged the parts of the rowhouses that weren’t incinerated.
“There’s not going to be a lot of the original interior left,” Israel said by phone Tuesday from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he owns a hotel.
He plans to return to Saratoga Springs in two weeks and said his family members are working with the tenants in the fire’s aftermath.
They also have boarded up doors and windows in the front to keep people out of the unstable structures.
Tall chain-link fence surrounds the building, and authorities Monday night reopened that block of Woodlawn Avenue, which had been closed since Sunday morning.
Authorities expect to determine a cause of the blaze by week’s end at the earliest.
Israel has owned the Woodlawn Avenue rowhouses for about 25 years. They’re rented to people who work at Saratoga Race Course in the summer and live downstate the rest of the year.
Some of the tenants lost all their belongings in the blaze, and two lost cars that were parked in the back.
The Northeastern New York chapter of the American Red Cross is helping the tenants, some of whom had no renter’s insurance.
“Obviously, the really tough stuff is the tenants who live there lost personal belongings,” Israel said. “If there’s any silver lining, it’s that no one was hurt.”
For tenants who work at the track, donations of new and gently used clothing, gift cards, prepaid phone cards, prepaid cellphones and toiletries will be accepted Thursday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Saratoga Race Course backstretch recreation hall inside Gate 16 off Union Avenue.
Israel owns about 10 large historic buildings in town, including the Inn at Saratoga, which his family runs.
He is well-known for demolishing several old buildings along Franklin and Division streets and constructing Franklin Square, a move that some credit with helping to restore the city’s West Side.