Lynn, Mass., fire sets back restoration effort

For the second time in less than a month, fire has destroyed the hopes of a Massachusetts city to put historic, but well-worn, factory buildings back into productive use.

A spectacular 16-hour blaze in the blue-collar city of Lynn, 10 miles north of Boston, ruined 17 buildings in a downtown renewal project Nov. 28. Property damage was estimated at $40 million, with 750 people forced to evacuate their homes. Although no lives were lost, as many as 1,500 people may be out of work as a result of the fire.

The cause immediately was termed as arson by state Fire Marshal Joseph O'Keefe. This has prompted the office of state Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Lynn officials, led by Mayor Antonio Marino, vowed to rebuild the burned-out section but conceded that at least a year probably will be lost until the effort can go forward again. Gov. Edward J. King quickly declared the section a disaster area and his staff was planning to carry an application for federal relief funds to Washington Nov. 29.

The Lynn fire, which ranks among the worst in Massachusetts history, came four weeks after one in the industrial city of Fall River that was nearly as spectacular, if less devastating.

In both cases, the fires began in areas where renovation of old factories was well under way. The damaged building in Fall River was at the center of a $1.6 million project designed to provide new jobs for the old textile city.

Lynn had even more ambitious plans for its affected area, including extensive housing for the elderly and a $26 million community college that was to have occupied some of the old buildings. In all, the downtown renewal effort was expected to cost $200 million.

Lynn once was the center of the US shoe-manufacturing industry, and some of the burned-out buildings were considered among the best examples of period factory architecture.

Many other New England cities feature old shoe- or textile-industry buildings , some of which already have been upgraded for new uses. The principal example is Lowell, Mass., whose historic textile mills are at the center of a $40 million renovation project that has won national park status.

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