Category: Archive

Woodside Smolders

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney and Patrick Markey

It was just before 8 o’clock Monday morning when the phone rang in Shane Moynagh’s Floral Park home. Mark Flynn, a baker employed by Moynagh, was on the line with the news that every business owner dreads. Shane’s Bakery on 61st Street, in Woodside, Queens, was on fire.

"I was working in the back in the bakery and there was smoke coming through," Flynn, a native of Newry, Co. Down, told the Echo.

The shop next door to Shane’s Bakery, a jewelry store, was on fire, he said. "We started getting everybody out, I phoned Shane and turned off the gas."

Flynn himself then discovered he couldn’t escape through the front door of Shane’s Bakery because of the fire. "I got out through the roof using a ladder I found in the backyard," he said. He then hauled the ladder onto the roof and lowered it to the ground in an alleyway where he stepped down to safety.

Flynn and his workmates had just made their escape in time; subsequently, the fire-damaged roof collapsed, making Shane’s Bakery the sixth business hugging the 61st Street-Roosevelt Avenue corner to be destroyed during the morning rush-hour blaze.

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Burned too was a Mexican Restaurant, formerly the Woodside Steakhouse, for years an Irish landmark bar and restaurant operated by Cavan man Pat Cahill. Now, only a burned out shell remains of the building that was once a bustling meeting place at the foot of the stairs from the No. 7 train stop.

"I am out of there three years, I am sad to hear it," said Cahill, when told of the fire. He said that since the premises became a Mexican restaurant, the "most I saw in it were two people."

"That was a good place, I had a lot of fun and met a lot of nice people in that place," Cahill said.

Over in an hour

The fire department was called to the scene at 7:46 a.m. and the third alarm blaze was under control by 8:40, according to Dave Billig, a New York Fire Department spokesman. Nobody died in the fire; two firemen were injured but it is believed they were not seriously hurt.

Because of the proximity of the fire to the nearby 61st Street stop for the elevated No. 7 train, trains bypassed the station for more than half an hour from 7:50 a.m.

As the Echo went to press Tuesday afternoon, the cause of the fire had not been established. Investigators had brought in heavy equipment to sift through the rubble to determine the source of the blaze, fire officials said.

Irish American firefighter George Lonergan and his colleagues in Battalion 46 were among the first to arrive on the scene. Lonergan said the fire climbed into the attics and traveled across the various stores in the attic space. The backdraft in the attic eventually exploded, he said.

"We stopped it at Shane’s bakery," said Lonergan, whose ancestors came from Tipperary and Longford. He said it was very unusual to get fire conditions like that at that hour of the morning.

Counting his blessings was Roque Gallego, proprietor of the 61st Street Deli and Irish import store beside Shane’s Bakery.

"Just to see the work of so many people over so many years gone in five minutes is so depressing," Gallego said. "We are all neighbors, we are friends," he added, referring to the other burned out businesses, which included a Colombian bakery, a beauty parlor and a one-hour photo shop, that were destroyed.

"I have been in this building for at least 12 years," Gallego said. "Shane supplied me and I supplied him. This guy Shane built up his business and to see him having to start from scratch again is very unpleasant."

The fire scene was immediately cordoned off by police as fire marshals and investigators gingerly moved in to determine the cause and origin of the fire. Among the onlookers on 61st Street, business owners behind yellow police tape tried to peer into the charred remains of what had been their dreams and livelihoods. But in what was a scene of disaster to many, Moynagh saw the positive. He was even already thinking about the future.

"My first reaction was that everybody was alright," he said.

From what he saw of his business from the outside, Moynagh said it looked like he would have to gut the whole building. At least, he said, there didn’t appear to be any water damage.

"We will have to rebuild it, we would start today if they let us. As soon as they let me in, I’ll start, I’ll have a dumpster down here."

For many people rushing to work, it was the billowing smoke that first caught their attention. "I was on 62nd Street about 8 a.m., I was waiting for a bus to come and the street started filing with smoke," Pat Hurley said. "I saw two businesses on Roosevelt Avenue with smoke coming out of them, the Columbian bakery and the beauty parlor. I came around the corner, into 61st Street, and I saw the place gutted."

Margaret Lyons arrived on the scene at 9 a.m. to begin work in Shane’s Bakery.

"I saw all the fire brigades and I asked a guy what had happened and he said the bakery was gone," she said. "I worked here since it opened about three years ago. After three years I hope I am not out of a job."

For many, Shane’s Bakery, which included a restaurant, was a popular dining place. "It’s horrible because Shane just fixed his place up," said Missy Behan, who lives on 64th Street. "You could go in there and have a meal, it was a decent place to go. It had local charm about it and everyone there was friendly."

Home to the Irish

For the Irish who live in the Woodside area, however, it was not just that businesses had been destroyed. A thriving part of their close-knit community had suddenly been reduced to cinders, a scene that, for some, rekindled memories of another fire on a dreary New Year’s Eve about five years ago in nearby Dillon’s bar.

"This is the heart of Woodside, Roosevelt Avenue and 61st Street," Hurley said.

"Shocked," was Brigid Nicholson’s reaction as she surveyed the commotion. "We normally ate in Shane’s Bakery," she said. Her companion, Patricia Loughnane, said she was sad in seeing what had happened. "Woodside was picking up," she said, adding that now she is concerned that the burned out buildings might be left vacant for a long period and become an eyesore.

"They were rejuvenating this area and now its . . . ," Behan said, her voice trailing off as she pointed to the burned out buildings.

"I feel sorry for the people whose business are now gone up in smoke," said Jeanne Grote, nee Kennedy, a Woodside resident for 20 years whose ancestors came from Mayo and Limerick. "When I went into Shane’s, I felt proud this was an Irish business," she said.

She also added that she used to visit the Woodside Steakhouse. "I liked it there, it was nice," she said.

Mary Sheerin, nee Cadogan, a native of Skibbereen, has lived for the last 35 years in Woodside. She had been upstate last weekend, only to return Monday morning to find her neighborhood in turmoil. "I was coming down Roosevelt Avenue and the way was stopped with fire trucks," she said. "So I got out and walked down to get my papers in the 61st Street Deli. Half of Woodside was burned out, I was shocked."

"We’ve lived in Woodside all these years, it’s like our home," she said. "We had our kids here, they went to school here, got married here. This is the worst I’ve ever seen in Woodside."

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