Four-alarm fire guts historic Masonic temple on Hancock Street in Quincy

QUINCY — A four-alarm fire gutted the historic Masonic temple on Hancock Street today, starting in the basement of the 87-year-old structure and burning for hours before it was doused by fire crews from Quincy and Boston.

The building is likely to be a total loss, said Quincy Fire Chief Joseph Barron.

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Quincy Police Captain John Keenan said workers were doing renovations in the basement when a grinding tool caused a spark. The workers attempted to extinguish the fire but were unsuccessful, he said.

No one was reported injured, authorities said.

As the fire grew, firefighters were forced to evacuate the structure for safety reasons and attacked the blaze from only the outside, pouring streams of water on it from hoses on aerial ladders. Shortly afterwards, the roof of the building collapsed, authorities said.

The fire was reported at about noon. Local TV station helicopter footage showed orange flames flickering and black and white smoke billowing from the roof. Smoke poured from the building until about 3:30 p.m. By 4 p.m. firefighters had shut down their hoses and were lowering their ladders. But at 4:30 p.m., they resumed pouring water on hot spots. The building’s limestone walls were blackened with soot.

Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Starr said firefighters would be stationed at the building all night to watch out for a flareup.

“Two hundred years’ worth of history gone,’’ said David Elsner, president of the temple association, which owned the building. He said the fire had destroyed relics and antiques in the building.

But both he and Jacob Yanovich, the presiding officer of the local chapter, said the Masonic mission would continue.

“The lodge isn't the building you meet in, it’s the members who meet there,” Yanovich said. “This is just another chapter in its history, but it’s hard to see.”

Kristie Chesebrough said she saw the fire from Alba Deli

The Quincy Masonic Building, was built in 1926 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

The building is in the city’s downtown business district. Many nearby workers and business owners became eyewitnesses to a major fire.

“The fire is really strong,” Howard Jacobs, the owner of Toodie’s Fine Jewelry, which is located directly across the street from the temple, said in a telephone interview during the height of the blaze.

“There are huge flames engulfing the roof and black, black smoke. There are huge clumps of ash on my doorsteps,’’ he said.

Jacobs said he couldn’t count the number of firefighters who had responded.

“[Firefighters] are on the roof, and some went through the front door with a couple hoses,” Jacobs said. “There are firemen everywhere.”

Greg Everett, owner of nearby Kenny’s Locks, said, “The roof is burning the most. It still seems fairly strong.”

He said the walls of the building were made of stone and “I don’t think it’s going to burn through that.”

The National Weather Service said the plume of smoke from the fire was so voluminous that it had been picked up by weather radar.

The temple was built for the Masons, said Ed Fitzgerald, executive director of the Quincy Historical Society.

“The public facade of it is quite handsome,” Fitzgerald said of the Greek-style pillars that adorn the front entrance. “It was considered to contribute heavily to the architectural look of Quincy Center.”

“The front facade is holding up at this point,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully, it will survive.”

Leo Martin, owner of the contracting company, Quincy Adams Building Corp., that was doing the work in the basement, appeared to have a more optimistic view than local officials.

“The historic facade will be maintained and everything will be brought back to use,” he said. He said work on the building, which had been going on for two months, had been properly permitted.

Police closed streets in the area, causing traffic snarls; the Quincy Center T stop on the Red Line was also closed.

The building was under agreement to be sold to Martin Realty. The deal called for the temple association to remain in the building, moving to the basement, and that’s why renovation work was underway there, lodge officials said.

Lodge officials said that in the interim, they would meet at a lodge in Weymouth.

Jacobs, the owner of Toodies, said he watched as the fire relentlessly spread through the building, first with flames pouring from the roof, and then with flames pouring out the front door.

“I used to go in there as a child,’’ Jacobs said. “This is pretty heartbreaking.’’