Schenectady County

Site of tragic fire in dispute

The new plan to demolish the 50 worst buildings in Schenectady is distressing neighbors of one prope
Memorials for the six people who died in a fire in this house at 206 Division St. in Schenectady nearly four years ago are still standing on April 17.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Memorials for the six people who died in a fire in this house at 206 Division St. in Schenectady nearly four years ago are still standing on April 17.

The new plan to demolish the 50 worst buildings in Schenectady is distressing neighbors of one property on the list.

Residents near 206 Division St. are hoping the city just forgets about knocking down the house where four children and two young parents died in a 2004 fire. It has stood ever since as a blackened, falling-apart memorial to the family’s devastating loss, and some neighbors want it to stay that way.

So when they learned that the city might have to delay demolition for months to organize the 50-worst program, they were quite happy.

“That house, it doesn’t bother me,” said Urmela Chandrapaul, who lives a few doors away from the boarded-up property. “They cut the grass, they put flowers — I moved here after the fire but other people want it as a memorial.”

Some want 206 Division St. to remain as it is, slowly decaying amid neat, owner-occupied homes. But others want it rebuilt for a new family. One man has offered to buy the house and repair it as a way of honoring the dead.

City officials are sympathetic, but say the building will come down. Delays have left neighbors hopeful of a reprieve — city officials first said the house would be demolished last fall, then this spring, and now say it will happen “sometime” this year.

But the delays aren’t an indication that the city is reconsidering its position, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said.

He’s waiting for contractors to bid on a demolition project that includes 206 Division St. and many other blighted houses on the 50-worst list. The city expects to save money by hiring a company to do the entire job, rather than paying separately for each demolition.

He said the city is certain to knock down 206 Division St. eventually, arguing that it would be better for the neighborhood to have fewer houses and more green space.

But neighbors say they don’t want a 30-foot patch of grass in the middle of their neighborhood. They want the house.

“The situation with the house is not that bad. If it can be fixed and someone wants to fix it, why not?” said Mohammed Karimi, who lives two doors down from the burned-out building. “This is one house — if someone needed green space, this is not it. It’s not much space, not a quarter-mile.”

Other neighbors are resigned to seeing the house come down, saying the demolition might be necessary to help the neighborhood heal. The children who died in the fire, particularly 15-year-old Elijah, 13-year-old Bryan and 8-year-old Scottie, were good friends with many other children on the street. They were so loved that after the children’s mother escaped the fire by jumping out a window, two young men from the neighborhood broke into the house to try to save the boys. The flames pushed them back.

Even now, four years after the children’s deaths, their friends leave toys and stuffed animals on the house steps and write messages of grief and love. It will be hard for them to let go, said Sue Bond, who lives across the street.

“My son would say no, keep it up as a memorial, but that’s what the grave is for,” Bond said. “It’s hard, because we were so close to the boys. The night before the fire, Elijah wanted to sleep over, but [his father] had to work the next morning …”

She trailed off, staring at the blackened porch.

“It will be hard,” she said. “I don’t know if it would make a difference. The memory’s always going to be there. But we do need to move on. At some point, we do have to move on.”

For now, mourners just have to walk onto the front lawn, where someone has erected tall stone memorials to each person who died: Elijah, Bryan and Scottie Self, new parents Nancy Self and Vincent Manning, and their 7-month-old son Vincent Jr.

The fire is considered the city’s deadliest in more than 20 years, and no cause has ever been determined.

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