10th Anniversary of the Old Salt Fire
Lot Remains Undeveloped Due to Litigation, Economy
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, June 26, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- It's been 10 years since the infamous fire at the Old Salt at Hampton Beach, which destroyed not only the popular restaurant, but also several other beach businesses.
While the Old Salt is thriving at its new location at Laurie's Tavern on Lafayette Road, to this day the land where the building and two others once stood remains vacant.
"I never would have guessed that one of the most important areas of the beach would still be empty for this long," said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Rick Griffin, who own Eccentric Hair at Hampton Beach.
The vacant lot has been used as a parking lot for the last seven years as plans to construct a 42-unit residential condominium building with a ground-floor retail project were put on hold due to litigation.
Abutters fought the development, which was first to be known as the "Majestic" then the "Breckenridge," all the way to the state Supreme Court.
And while developers won their legal battle in 2007, construction plans remained on hold due to the economy. The lot is currently up for sale again.
Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said the Old Salt blaze was one of the worst fires at the beach.
"Everyone calls it the "Old Salt fire" because that was the most important landmark to everybody at the time," Silver said, "but it was multiple structures and it had a devastating impact on the beach."
The fire occurred on June 16, 1999, at 2:40 p.m., in the alleyway between the Old Salt Eating and Drinking Place and the Beachwalk Enterprises.
What is believed to have started as a trash fire quickly spread to engulf the restaurant and the other buildings that housed Cecile's Gift Shop, Lexie's Pizzeria, Haven's Cafe and six apartment units.
Aided by a strong westerly wind, the fire then spread to Springfield Motor Lodge, the chief said.
More than 200 firefighters from 23 communities responded to the blaze and it took over four hours to get it under control.
Silver said the lessons he took from that fateful day was simple.
"One of the things we recognized after that incident is that adequate personnel executing the appropriate actions in a timely manner are critical to a successful outcome," Silver said.
Silver compared the Old Salt fire to the one that occurred at the Hampton Village Apartments on Lafayette Road in 2004.
During the Old Salt fire, the first engine to respond had only two beach station firefighters onboard.
"We needed to have enough people there in a short enough period of time to control the spread of the fire, and clearly in that instance it did not happen," Silver said. "The fire quickly went beyond their capability before additional help from the town station could arrive,"
At the Hampton Beach Village Apartments, Silver said the department was conducting training that day at the beach and, as a result, had additional manpower available.
"We had the number of people that we have been recommending for years that were needed for a first alarm and look at the outcome," Silver said. "There was minimal damage and it was contained to one apartment." Bob Preston, who owned the Beachwalk Enterprises, said the fire was devastating not only to the business, but the beach in general.
"Hampton Beach really stopped at the playground because everything down on the south end was beach houses and cottages," Preston said. "When the Old Salt was there, it was the place to be."
Preston said he believes the reason why nothing is being developed right now is because of the current economic climate.
"People will not invest until they see the economy start to turn around," Preston said.
Griffin said he believes that eventually the lot will be developed. "It's a shame the project that was going to be constructed there was tied up in all those lawsuits," Griffin said.
Griffin said he would like to see a hotel constructed in the location. "But I'm also not opposed to seeing condominiums there," Griffin said. "Whatever maximizes the potential tax base for Hampton is what I want to see there."
Griffin said he believes the $14.5 million Hampton Beach redevelopment project will attract investors into the beach.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot of investments starting to happen," Griffin said.