GLOVERSVILLE — Flames spewed from the site of a former tannery on West 11th Avenue Saturday morning.
Fire Chief Tom Groff said the department received the call at 7:30 a.m.
He said while the cause of the fire is under investigation, he believes it to be suspicious.
West 11th Avenue resident Alice Weaver called 911 after seeing flames shooting out from the building Saturday morning.
She said Saturday’s fire wasn’t the first incident at the vacant tannery.
“There was another fire about two years back,” she said. “It’s a hazard.”
Weaver said she’s watched over the facility since moving into her home 62 years ago.
“It was busy one day and then the next day there wasn’t a soul,” she said.
Weaver said when she first moved into her home, Frank Perrella owned the facility.
According to an article by Hartwick College, where Perrella received several collegiate degrees, he joined his father Joe’s business, Perrella Glove Co. after college.
In 1966, Perrella founded JBF Industries Inc. at the West 11th Avenue site before selling it 30 years later.
Michael DeMagistris then operated Tradition Leather Inc. out of the facility.
In August 2008, DeMagistris was charged with failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance for more than 25 employees from June 16, 2007, to March 10, 2008.
Two years earlier, Tradition Leather was charged with causing a fish kill in the Cayadutta Creek, which runs through the plant grounds.
Mayor Dayton King said DeMagistris couldn’t make the business work and walked away at least eight years ago.
“LLC’s protect personal assets, so when companies fail and they walk away, municipalities are stuck cleaning it up,” King said. “The city has tried to hold the owners accountable to clean it up and we’ve applied for grants to tear it down, but haven’t gotten anywhere.”
King said it’s expensive to demolish buildings.
“Buildings cost a lot of money to tear down and this building is more costly because of the old leather toxins,” he said. “We had an old church people walked away from on South Main Street and it cost $400,000 to knock it down.
“There’s no way we could come up with the money to do it.”
Groff said the federal Environmental Protection Agency cleared the building several years ago of chemicals except for asbestos.
King said the city should be able to waive some of the demolition obstacles after the fire.
“We should be able to do it under emergency guidelines,” he said. “Now that it’s an active fire, we should be able to bring a crew in and take it down.”
In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, King said, Gloversville used to be home to a lot of leather and glove companies.
“Gloversville used to be the world wide leader, but the leather and glove industry is gone,” he said. “This was one of the last remnants.”
Specialty tanning shop Sunderland Leather Co., which processed bison hides into the leather that Olympia Gloves manufactured into gloves to outfit Olympic athletes, is still located in Gloversville.
Weaver said she and other neighbors have complained about the former tannery for years.
She said it draws homeless people and teenagers as well as children from the adjacent Kingsborough Elementary School.
“People break in all the time and police are always here,” she said. “I want it to be taken down and I’m sure other neighbors feel the same.
“When this thing goes down, it’ll be the best day of my life,” Weaver said.
The Gloversville and Johnstown fire departments were the main departments on the scene, with the Berkshire Volunteer Fire Department and Meco Volunteer Fire Company assisting.