Fire destroys part of Conneaut Lake Park (VIDEO)
BY TIM HAHN
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Published: February 02. 2008 6:00AM
CONNEAUT LAKE -- It was an albatross, really. A faded paint relic of a time when travel was by steam locomotive, and a sleeping room could be had for the coins jingling in one's pocket.
But the Conneaut Lake Park's Dreamland Ballroom, a ridiculously oversized and wheelchair-inaccessible gathering spot that stretched over nearly half of the old amusement park's midway, was still seen as a valuable asset by those working to breathe new life into the troubled resort.
The dream was lost Friday morning, when a smoky fire that quickly grew into a blazing inferno leveled the nearly century-old structure.
Overseers of the 116-year-old park on the western shore of Conneaut Lake said they couldn't begin to guess Friday at the value of what the fire consumed. But everything will be a loss be-cause there was no fire insurance on Dreamland Ballroom, said Jack Moyers, president of Conneaut Lake Park's 13-member board of trustees.
"All of the structures were grossly uninsured even from the onset," Moyers said in a statement Friday morning.
The losses, in addition to the second-floor dancing pavilion, included a half-dozen ground-level food stands, a game arcade, restroom facilities, the park's maintenance complex and a warehouse full of parts and supplies.
The motors that powered most of Conneaut Lake Park's amusement rides were inside the maintenance complex and warehouse, and all were lost, said George Deshner, a park board member who oversaw its day-to-day operations.
Spared by the fire as it burned through the north side of the park's midway were two game stands and the Log Cabin gift shop, which sit west of where the Dreamland Ballroom complex once stood. The gift shop, formerly a restaurant, predates the 1909 ballroom by seven years, according to park history.
Moyers credited the efforts of firefighters from 16 area volunteer departments who spent hours Friday morning battling, and then trying to contain, a fire that witnesses said could be seen for miles around.
The initial fire call came in to the Crawford County 911 center at 2:30 a.m. Friday, an emergency dispatcher said.
John McGlynn, an assistant chief with the Summit Volunteer Fire Department, said a member of the Conneaut Lake Park Volunteer Fire Department who was returning from a call in Conneautville saw smoke coming from the park and called it in.
Deshner said he was awakened Friday morning by an unidentified caller who said that a fire had broken out at the Hotel Conneaut, which is also in the park. He immediately called the county 911 center and learned that there was a fire at the park, but it was in the Dreamland Ballroom, Deshner said.
"I got into Conneaut Lake and as I looked up, the entire sky was lit up," Deshner said. "Flames were shooting several hundred feet in the air."
The first fire companies found little more than heavy smoke coming from the front of the Dreamland Ballroom complex when they arrived. Crews went inside the building to find and douse the fire, but were pulled out minutes later when flames began to quickly consume the ballroom, Summit Fire Chief Gig King said.
"In about 10 minutes, all you saw was a ball of flames shooting through the roof," King said.
The roof of the massive structure collapsed into the ballroom, and the upper floor soon collapsed onto the ground-floor level, leaving behind only twisted pieces of the metal arches that supported the roof.
"It didn't take long to disappear," McGlynn said.
None of the roughly 70 firefighters who worked to put out the fire suffered any injuries, King said.
It will take at least several days to get at a possible cause of the fire, said Trooper Dana Beckwith, a state police fire marshal who was called to the scene to begin an investigation Friday morning.
The building did have some electrical service at the time of the fire, but it was not believed to have been heated, he said.
It is expected to take the park's board of trustees some time to realize what effect Friday's devastating fire will have on their efforts to get Conneaut Lake Park open for 2008.
The board was appointed to oversee the park in summer, a few months after its previous custodian ordered it closed for the 2007 season because of a lack of startup funds and about $2.5 million in unpaid debts.
Board members used some donated funds to open the park's Beach Club restaurant and bar complex for three months. They have since taken steps to reopen the entire resort by asking for proposals from individuals and groups interested in leasing out all or part of park operations.
The offered parts included the Dreamland Ballroom, which was originally built for dancing but was used in recent years for band concerts, banquets and other special events.
Moyers called the loss of the ballroom "more than just structural."
"It was an icon to the park and the entire area," he said. "Many memories were made there, and regardless of what replaces it, it will never be the same Dreamland Ballroom."