The smell of smoke still lingers on the front steps of St. Anthony’s Church and throughout the 90-year-old Schenectady landmark next to Union College. The gloom and doom, however, seem to be dissipating.
The fire that broke out in the furnace room of the basement early Friday night did considerable damage to the front end of the main sanctuary, but two of the stained-glass windows on the west wall are in good enough shape that they will be restored. Firefighters who broke through the glass with a hose Friday night damaged only the bottom section of the two windows, which are approximately 12 feet by 5 feet.
“We’ve already had a stained-glass guy come in and look at it,” said Ray Legere of Legere Restorations, the company that will be fixing the damage. “We have to figure out what the composition was, how it was manufactured, when it was manufactured, and then we’ll replicate as best we can with modern materials.”
That was good news to the Rev. Richard A. Carlino, pastor at the church.
“I feel much better, and if we have to search throughout the country for that type of stained-glass window, we will do our best to get it totally restored,” he said. “I am still so relieved that no one was hurt. When I first came here and saw the smoke, and thought that somebody might be in there and that I did something that was responsible for it, it’s overwhelming. When you’re the pastor your mind is spinning at a time like this.”
Gioia Ottaviano, who turned 90 earlier this year and has been a lifelong member of the church, was also happy to hear the two windows could be restored. Her grandfather, Peter Dente, was one of 10 men to each contribute $100 to the building for its construction in 1924. He was also one of four Italian immigrants responsible for putting up one of the windows that was damaged.
“There were four pisans, Dente, who was my grandfather, DeMarco, Consalvo and Policastro, who were all from the same district in Italy,” said Ottaviano, who was named a patroon of the city earlier this year. “They were all married to sisters, I think, and they all came to Schenectady in 1890. They’re the guys who paid for that window.”
When Ottaviano heard about the fire on Saturday morning, she immediately thought of the window.
“I guessed that it was that window because I knew it was near the furnace on that side of the church,” she said. “It’s not totally destroyed. It’s just smashed up where they needed to get the smoke out. I heard that they kept on apologizing to Father [Carlino] for breaking the windows, but they had to get the smoke out. They had to save the church.”
There is still no indication of how the fire started,.
Legere said he didn’t want to put any timetable on how long the restoration process would work.
“The first phase is to determine the damage and then determine how best to fix it,” he said. “The critical part is to get the soot off as much as we can from the wood finishes, the pews and the statuary. Soot is acidic and can even affect the glass.”
There are three tall, thin stained-glass windows behind the altar that were also damaged, along with paintings on the ceiling in that area. One window is destroyed.
“This section is where the flames came up out of the basement and the window on the right is totally gone,” said Legere. “We can restore the other two, but the one will be a completely new window.”
The entire sanctuary underwent a renovation project when the Rev. Dominick Ingemie was at St. Anthony’s from 1980-91.
“The interior of the building was completely renovated in the mid-1980s, but we didn’t have to do much with the stained-glass windows,” said Ingemie, who recently retired and will serve his final Mass at St. Peter’s Church in Saratoga Springs on Sunday. “Everything on the wall, including the paintings, was restored. We also built the addition to the left of the side door. It was a lot of work and I was just heartbroken to hear about the fire. I’m just very glad that no one got hurt.”