Luigi’s was more than just another restaurant for Carol Clough.
The daughter of longtime owner Marlene Hill recalled polishing silverware at the eatery when she was just 5 years old and busing tables as a teenager 10 years later. Most of her family worked at Luigi’s, so they’d often celebrate holidays at the landmark Barrett Street restaurant.
“Half the time, that’s where we’d spend Christmas,” she recalled Thursday.
But that was decades ago. Luigi’s went out of business in 2007, a year after Hill was tragically killed by her mentally unstable grandson.
The restaurant was seized by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and its contents sold at auction. The building remained empty for years and was slated for demolition before a pre-dawn fire ripped through it and an adjacent brick home Thursday.
Now all that remains of the structure is a burned-out shell — a harsh end for the once-dignified establishment that catered to area politicians and celebrities. The sight was heart-breaking for Clough, who worked at the restaurant for nearly 45 years before it finally folded.
“I had to stop by and cry a bit,” she said. “My mother’s heart would have been broken.”
City fire investigators continued to probe the cause of the blaze but are labeling it suspicious since neither of the city-owned buildings had working electricity.
Firefighters were called to the scene around 4 a.m. and brought the inferno under control in roughly two hours.
“There was a great deal of smoke in the area and also a plume of smoke that was visible from miles around,” Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said at the scene Thursday morning.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said razing the remains of the two buildings will cost about $38,000. Both structures are owned by the Schenectady Urban Renewal Agency, an entity headed by the mayor and the City Council.
City officials had hoped both properties would be demolished last fall to make way for a condominium complex. The urban renewal agency planned to hold the property for developer Anthony D’Adamo, allowing him to build the project without paying taxes on the land. The property would then be transferred back to the tax rolls once the project was completed.
The slow economy and housing market have since stalled plans for the development, even though the city is still considering D’Adamo’s proposal.
“We’re still looking to do a project at that site,” McCarthy said
When reached by phone Thursday, D’Adamo declined comment.
Luigi Battaglioli purchased Stella’s Restaurant in 1950 and renamed it after himself. Under his ownership, the restaurant became a destination in a city brimming with General Electric and American Locomotive workers.
Hill, who worked as a waitress at the restaurant for years under Battaglioli, purchased the business in 1981. The restaurant continued to flourish under her ownership and was a hot-spot for local politicians during election campaigns.
“Everybody and anybody came to that place to eat,” Clough said. “The food was great, and it was always busy.”
But Luigi’s fate seemed to follow the overall decline in the city. As jobs poured out of Schenectady, Hill found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
Then in April 2006, tragedy struck. Hill was found stabbed to death in the bedroom of her home in the city’s Bellevue neighborhood. Her grandson, Nicholas Paniccia, later admitted to the killing and was ordered into the care of a state psychiatric facility.
Paniccia, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, said he heard voices in his head that ordered him to stab his grandmother.
Family members tried to reopen the restaurant after Hill’s death, but the business had fallen about $95,000 behind in state and local taxes. The contents of the building were sold individually at a tax auction that netted roughly $25,000 in April 2007.
Nearby residents are weary from the perceived lack of progress at the restaurant. Barrett Street homeowner Mike Harris said the old restaurant became a haven for transients.
“That’s been going on over there for the last couple of years,” he said from his porch stoop. “I’ll be glad when they tear it down.”