Archive for the ‘Ocean Grove fire March 11’ Category

Ocean Grove. March 11, 2011. Surf Avenue.  By Ted Aanensen, Blogfinger staff photographer   ©

Ocean Grove. March 11, 2011. Surf Avenue. By Ted Aanensen, Blogfinger staff photographer ©


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On March 12, 2011, 27 Surf Avenue was turned into an empty lot. Another home later was built there. Blogfinger photo by Ted Aanensen, Blogfinger staff. ©

On March 12, 2011, 27 Surf Avenue was turned into an empty lot. Another home later was built there. Photo by Ted Aanensen, Blogfinger staff. ©

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor  @Blogfinger

This is getting ridiculous. First we had the Manchester Inn conflagration on March 13, 2010 and then there was the destructive Surf Avenue fire on March 11, 2011.  Recently a tent burned down—that’s enough to make anybody tense.

Now we add the Main Avenue fire of February 6, 2015. Throughout Ocean Grove’s history there have been many fires which destroyed tinder box buildings including large hotels and boarding hoses.

But you would think that we would have been able to avoid repeats by using superior technology. Of course, many cases are due to human carelessness, and even Smoky the Bear can’t prevent that.

In 2011, an article in Blogfinger questioned the quality of fire investigations in Ocean Grove by County investigators.  Here is a link to a review of that subject. Hopefully they have improved in that area.  Note that none of these fires were found to be suspicious, not even the tent fire where the electricity and gas had been turned off. Spontaneous combustion perhaps?  And how about the “Friday February Fire of 2015?”  We’re told that it is “currently under investigation.”

Fire investigators article Blogfinger 2011

So now we have another big fire which will leave a large empty lot on Main Avenue, sort of like the large lots we acquired around the Manchester Inn and on Surf Ave. in the past.

In those locations, opulent single family homes went up. Before the Manchester burned there was talk of converting the building into condos, but that was not to be. Interestingly, the owner of that Inn said that rebuilding the hotel was economically unfeasible.

The Sampler was demolished,  and that site remains empty, awaiting construction of two Victorian wannabes. Meanwhile we have another blank space on Main Avenue.

The other double empty lot on the second Beach block of Main Ave. will be where Mary’s Place will be constructed.  I think something burned down there in the past.  (anybody know?)  That zoning story was discussed recently on BF.

So what will happen to the new vacant lots at the site of Friday’s fire?  Based on past experience, whatever happens will not be decided by the citizens, no matter how many hearings are held.  Representative government in this town is in some respects deficient, at least as far as those who live here are concerned.  Transparency of processes needs to be improved, such as in the zoning arena.  But, if we are dissatisfied , whose fault is that?  Just look in the mirror.






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By Charles Layton

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, it seems, is still not telling all it knows about the March 11 fire that destroyed a former hotel and six homes on Surf and Atlantic avenues in Ocean Grove.

We reported last week that the fire may have been caused by a gas heater in the old hotel’s basement. (Go here to reread that story.)

We also reported on the refusal of officials in the county fire marshal’s office and the county prosecutor’s office to tell the public what they know about the investigation of that fire. (Go here for our editorial on that.)

A central question is whether the gas heater, which was used to provide heat for construction workers at the site, might have been left burning and unattended the night before the fire. (The fire was reported at 5:11 on the following morning.)

On Thursday, in a telephone interview, Assistant County Prosecutor Chris Decker told us that the evidence “did not enable the investigators to determine with certainty whether the heater was left on.”

Asked if investigators had asked the construction workers at the site whether the heater was left burning, Decker said the workers had indeed been interviewed. However, he said, “I can’t get into what individual people said.”

When asked whether a night watchman or guard had been present at any time during the night, he said, “The scene was left secured the night before. My understanding is the area was locked. That’s all I can say, I don’t know any more.”

He did not provide answers when asked about the type of heater and whether it was in good working condition.

He said his office had conducted “a thorough, thorough, exhaustive investigation” and that “based upon the investigation and evidence, there is no evidence supporting criminal charges.”

Asked whether, regardless of the issue of criminality, county officials would consent to provide the people of Ocean Grove with a complete account, in writing, of their investigative findings about the fire’s cause, Decker did not offer much hope.

“I’ve released all I can release,” he finally said.

On another front, Blogfinger reporter Yvette Blackman placed a call to County Fire Marshal Henry A. Stryker, III on Wednesday of last week, seeking information about his office’s investigation of the fire. She still has not heard back from Stryker.

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NOTE: This story was updated on Monday to include comments from the property owner, Hans Kretschman.

By Charles Layton

This week, the Zoning Board of Adjustment is to consider — and probably vote on — the controversial question of what size houses should be built on the site of the late Manchester Inn.

The Manchester, as everyone knows, was destroyed by fire in March of 2010 along with five adjacent houses. At the time, local developer Hans Kretschman had an agreement to buy the place and convert it from a hotel/restaurant into a 14-unit condominium facility. But after the fire, the property’s zoning status reverted to single-family, so it was back to the drawing board.

Now, Kretschman proposes to build two single-family houses on the portion of the Manchester property that faces Ocean Pathway. (The Manchester also included a rear lot facing Bath Avenue.) However, Kretschman’s plan requires zoning variances because it violates the existing standards regarding height and the number of stories permitted, and because it would encroach into Ocean Pathway’s flared setback area. (The “flared setback,” which widens toward the ocean from Central Avenue to Ocean Avenue, is one of the unique original features of Ocean Grove’s town plan. Preservationists consider it sacrosanct.)

The Zoning Board began hearing Kretschman’s case on July 20 and is scheduled to continue the hearing on Wednesday. At the July 20 hearing, Kretschman’s attorney, Jennifer Krimko, called two architects to testify in favor of his building plans. One, Michael Calafati, a specialist in historic buildings, used old photographs in support of the argument that Kretschman’s plans were actually consonant with the architectural heritage along that particular street. Calafati said the plans were intended to reconstruct two buildings that had stood on the site at the turn of the century, which was before the Manchester existed and before Ocean Grove became a national historic district.

Krimko told the Board that she also intends to call a planner who will testify that Kretschman’s plans would preserve the architectural integrity of the area better than if he were forced to follow present zoning rules.

Several Grovers raised questions during the public portion of the hearing. Madeline Tugentman of 31 Ocean Pathway asked why Kretschman could not conform to the flared setback. She and her husband, Steven, lost their home in the Manchester fire, and when they rebuilt, she said, “we followed the rules.” Norm Goldman told the board, “This proposal is not in concert with the appearance of that entire block,” meaning that the two proposed houses would have one story more than others on that side of the street.

Another architect, Joseph Walker, testified that there was historic precedent for taller buildings on the opposite (south) side of Ocean Pathway. He cited five buildings that were destroyed by fire in 1977. “All those buildings were at least four stories — four or five stories,” Walker said.

The properties in question — two adjacent lots — are zoned for 2 1/2 stories and with a height limitation of 35 feet. Both of Kretschman’s proposed houses would have 3 1/2 stories. The one at 27 Ocean Pathway would be 38 feet 4 inches high; the other one, at 25 Ocean Pathway, would be 35 feet 11 1/2 inches high.

Earlier this year the Zoning Board rejected a proposal by Marc and Deb Marini for similar variances on their property next door to Kretschman’s lots. After losing their home at 23 Ocean Pathway in last year’s fire, the Marinis had also sought to rebuild to 3 1/2 stories. They expressed sharp disappointment when the Board refused their request for a variance.

Kretschman and his company, PH Distinctive Properties, have emerged as major players in Ocean Grove real estate in recent years. He purchased the Laingdon Hotel at 8 Ocean Avenue in 2001 and converted it to a luxury hotel. He purchased the Silver Sands Hotel at 6 Ocean in 2003 and made it his private residence. And he had just purchased the uninhabited old hotel at 27 Surf Avenue and was in the process of converting it to condos when it burned down in March of this year along with seven adjacent homes.

In an interview on Monday, Kretschman said he saw “a huge difference” between his application for variances and “other new home applications that were recently presented to the Zoning Board. We are reconstructing the images of two historic buildings that stood on that site at the turn of the century, which are within the Ocean Grove historic district’s period of significance.”

Kretschman said the structure that became the Manchester Inn had incorporated those two original separate buildings. “What we’re doing is putting back what was there over 100 years ago,” he said. The evidence for what was originally on the site  includes hundreds of photos of the interior and exterior, he said.

As to encroaching into the flared setback area, he said, “We hope to have that resolved on Wednesday.” He did not elaborate except to say that the original buildings that had stood on the site had also encroached into the setback area.

25 and 27 Ocean Pathway, looking northwest. Photo by Charles Layton

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The Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday gave Heinz Weck approval to build a new home in place of one that was lost in the March 11 fire. That makes it likely that Weck will be the first of the fire victims to rebuild.

Weck’s dwelling, at 28 Atlantic Avenue, was one of seven homes destroyed on March 11 along with the old Surf Avenue Hotel.

Weck and his architect, Joseph L. Walker III, presented plans for a new home of two and one-half stories, occupying approximately the same amount of space as the one that burned. “I told Mr. Walker to design a home that would be to the liking of the [HPC] board,” Weck said, “and the interior to my liking. My favorite color is baby blue, but if you like yellow I’ll paint it yellow.”

HPC chairwoman Deborah Osepchuk told him blue would be fine. The commission did have problems with the design of the front door and porch, however. After Walker agreed to make changes and resubmit those for Osepchuk’s approval, the commission gave its assent to the project on that basis.

Walker said he wasn’t sure when construction would begin.

— CL

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by Steve Mandeville

We want Grovers to tell us their observations and ideas about the March 11 fire. You can post them here or under any of the individual postings. You can click on “comments” below or send an email to pg1425@verizon.net .     PG

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The original Surf Avenue House, which burned on Friday: (courtesy of Kathy Arlt )

Below is a rendering of the #27 Surf Avenue condominiums as they were supposed to look when finished.

Link to PH Propeties: developers of 27 Surf Avenue

Rendering. #27 Surf Avenue Condos

Thanks to Kathy Arlt for locating this postcard for us.

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John Gallagher

Steve Mandeville


Steve Mandeville


View from Ocean Pathway looking north. Adelle Marcero of Ocean Grove


Many thanks to those intrepid Ocean Grovers who contributed to this gallery.

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Fire rages on Surf Avenue. Friday morning. Photo by John Gallagher of Ocean Grove

FRIDAY, March 11 — Seven houses and an old hotel were destroyed today, and five other houses were damaged in an early-morning fire that apparently started on Surf Avenue and quickly spread to Atlantic Avenue.

Four people were hospitalized with injuries, none serious.

All the destroyed and damaged properties were in the second block from the ocean — between Beach and Central avenues. Police, in a press release, listed the addresses of the buildings destroyed as 27, 31 and 33 Surf Avenue and 24 1/2, 26, 28, 30 and 32 Atlantic Avenue. They said five homes were damaged: 23 1/2, 30, 28 and 35 Surf Avenue and 34 Atlantic Avenue. Five parked vehicles were also damaged, police said.

Steve Mandeville of Ocean Grove, reporting from the scene, said it was his understanding that the fire started in the old hotel at 27 Surf Avenue, which was being converted to condos by developer Hans Kretschman. That uninhabited hotel had been owned, until recently, by Heinz Weck. It had been in poor condition for some time, according to neighbors. People at the fire scene were saying that the fire appeared to have broken out in the basement of that building, but no official cause had been established.

Weck had been living at 28 Atlantic, which he owned and which was destroyed in the fire. Weck told a Red Cross worker that he had lost everything, escaping with only his wallet.

Norman Buckman, who lives at 31 Surf, was taken to the hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation, according to Connie Ogden, who was also at the scene. Buckman’s house was destroyed.

A second resident, Peter Lenihan of 30 Atlantic, also suffered from smoke inhalation, and a fireman sustained a leg injury when a wall collapsed. A second fireman was also reported injured. All of the injured were treated at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

(UPDATE: A neighbor told Blogfinger Saturday morning that both Buckman and Lenihan have been released and are now doing fine. Both of the firemen have also been released.)

Mandeville said the wind was blowing toward Asbury Park during the fire and that firemen were hosing down roofs on the Wesley Grove condos there. Police attributed the fire’s quick spread to wind-driven burning embers.

Mandeville also reported a gas explosion at the scene; he said gas and electricity in the vicinity were shut off.

The Camp Meeting Association opened Grove Hall on Pilgrim Pathway as a center for displaced residents and firemen and relief workers. The Red Cross was using it as a center to interview people in need of housing, food and other services. The Starving Artist restaurant brought in food. The Asbury Park Press quoted Red Cross Regional Director Leo Pratte as saying at least a dozen displaced people might need another place to stay Friday night. Susan Taylor of Ocean Grove said she stopped by Grove Hall to offer help to the people sheltered there and found that “thanks to the leadership there, all was under control and more help [was] rolling in; but we did go home to get men’s/women’s clothing and especially dog food, a leash and a makeshift litter pan and litter for two of the displaced animals.”

Police said the fire was reported shortly before 5:15 AM. Soon thereafter residents of Ocean Grove were awakened by a steady chorus of sirens as fire engines streamed into town. Police said that units responded from Neptune, Neptune City, Bradley Beach, Avon, Allenhurst, Fort Monmouth, Ocean Township and Wall Township, in addition to Ocean Grove.

Neptune Police were asking anyone with information about the fire, including photographs or videos, to contact Police Detective Michael McGhee at 732-988-8000, extension 423. The police are especially interested in hearing from people who witnessed the early stages of the fire.

The fire is under investigation by the Neptune Police, the Neptune Fire Bureau, the Monmouth County Fire Marshall’s office and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office.

This fire was eerily reminiscent of the equally devastating one that broke out almost exactly one year ago on Ocean Pathway. That fire, on March 13, was also a block and a half away from the ocean, and just two blocks south of today’s fire. It also began in an empty hotel at around 5 AM. It destroyed the Manchester Inn and five adjacent homes, and severely damaged two other homes.

Postscript: The Asbury Park Press reports Saturday that officials are saying the cause of the fire was accidental.

— Charles Layton and Mary Walton

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