Longport loses Church of the Redeemer

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Longport volunteer firefighter Dan Greenberg stays onsite at the Church of the Redeemer Saturday keeping an eye out for any hot spots.
LONGPORT – The Church of the Redeemer at 20th and Atlantic avenues was more than just a small Mission style church, the 104 year old church was the crown jewel of this close knit community and a source of pride.

After a suspected lightning strike during the June 30 storm the building was determined to be structurally unsafe and it was demolished Monday afternoon according to Mayor Nick Russo, who was also a firefighter on the scene throughout the blaze.

According to Longport Volunteer Fire Chief Lavon Clayton, calls came in at 1:26 a.m. from several neighbors about a fire at the church.

Clayton said when they arrived on scene a few minutes later, firefighters forced their way into the rear doors of the church and did not see any flames after walking through the church and exiting through the front doors.

The winds at that time were estimated at about 60 mph and Clayton said the lightning was so bad that Deputy Chief Bruce Funk had the men return to their trucks. Embers from a lightning strike, according to Clayton, caught fire in the bell tower of the church. “The dry wood of a 104 year old building and the 60 to 70 mph winds caused the fire to spread rapidly. We tried to extinguish the fire completely but the bell tower acted like a chimney,” said Clayton. “It is a real shame.”

Clayton said he was very pleased with his firefighters and said they were able to keep the fire contained to the church and there was no damage to any of the nearby homes. “Given the intensity of the heat and the high winds it is very fortunate that our guys managed to keep it from damaging the nearby homes,” Clayton said.

The chief referred to the fire as a four-alarm blaze. He said he called for mutual aid and firefighters came from Ocean City, Marmora, Somers Point, Scullville, Ventnor and Atlantic City alongside the Longport crew of 17 firefighters.

A second call during the storm of a suspected lightning strike occurred on Overbrook Avenue had the Margate crew and another from Bargaintown combine their efforts to save the home.

Russo said that while manning a ladder truck he saw a sad sight. “I was really saddened when I saw the magnificent stained glass windows of the church go, one by one in front of my eyes and there was nothing we could do,” Russo said.

The mayor said he spoke to Kate Subranni of the Church of the Redeemer Monday afternoon who told him the church was insured and that they do plan on rebuilding.

Russo is also the emergency management coordinator for the borough.

He said they had blocked off Atlantic Avenue over concerns the church tower might fall. Russo said the church hired a structural engineer to assess the damage to the building Saturday and the engineer said there was concern that the tower could collapse. It was forced to be demolished for safety sake.

By Monday afternoon the 104-year-old worship and community gathering site was left preserved only in photographs and memories. The church was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1986 with much of the credit for that recognition going to former mayor and historian, Michael Cohen.

The stained glass windows were commissioned by a former mayor of Longport.

The multi-denominational parish follows an Episcopal liturgy but is home to Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and even Jewish services, according to a statement from Bob Subranni prior to the church’s centennial celebration. The church also boasted a 10-rack Muller Pipe Organ.

It had just opened for the season the week prior, on Fathers Day.

Photos by Chuck Eberson and Pierce Shaub

The stained glass windows melted and were lost in the June 30 fire.         The interior of the church, as seen here in this photo from services on Sept. 11, 2011. Photo by Suzanne Marino

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