Fire destroys Hillendale Country Club clubhouse

August 21, 1993|By Michael James and Gary Gately | Michael James and Gary Gately,Staff Writers

A three-alarm fire last night at the Hillendale Country Club left the 117-year-old clubhouse in ruin, caused damage in the millions of dollars and forced 100 people to evacuate the burning building, Baltimore County firefighters said.

Despite the raging fire that crumpled the building and left only the brick exterior walls standing, there were no injuries, firefighters said. Flames at one point were shooting 75 feet into the air through the roof while dozens of club members watched from the lawn.

"The country club basically burned to the ground. It's completely gone," said Capt. Patrick Kelly, a spokesman for the county Fire Department. "We don't have an estimate yet on the damage, but you're talking about at least a million dollars -- and I would say that's very conservative."

Many club members looked sadly at the wreckage of the building last night, remembering the clubhouse's history.

"I got sick to my stomach watching it burn. The whole sky was lit up. It was just all smoke and flames," said Frank Favazza, 65, a 37-year member of the club and past president. "It's such a terrible thing because there's so much tradition and so many memories here."

Members said that along with furniture and other valuables, the firedestroyed numerous heirlooms, such as golf trophies, antique wooden golf clubs and photographs of generations of club members. The club has about 500 members.

"It was such a great place to go to celebrate, and now you come back and it's just gone. It's desecrated," said Chester Beatty, the club's general manager.

The clubhouse, as is typical on a Friday night, was bustling with activity when the fire was discovered about 9:10 p.m. by a club worker on the second floor. Most of the 100 people inside at the time were in a dining room and a private party room, firefighters said.

After spotting the fire, the club worker alerted the staff and guests, and the building was quickly evacuated. "Everything went pretty smoothly as far as that was concerned. Everybody got out OK," Captain Kelly said. After the evacuation, a head count of the guests was taken and everyone was accounted for, firefighters said.

The building's roof collapsed before firefighters brought the blaze under control about 11:15 p.m. Captain Kelly said firefighters were still there as of midnight to work on the smoldering remains.

Still visible among the debris were a few dinner tables that escaped the fire's ravages. Fine china, crystal and silverware were still carefully set, resting atop waterlogged tablecloths.

Outside, members couldn't believe that the clubhouse's splendor had been turned to rubble and soot.

Jan Kenney, the wife of the club president, saw an American flag still flying on a nearby pole and remarked, "With the flag there and all, it looks like Fort McHenry, like the place had been bombed, but our flag was still there."

Firefighters' efforts in battling the blaze were hampered by a lack of available water, Captain Kelly said.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

The Hillendale Country Club, 10 miles north of Towson in the 13700 block of Blenheim Road, opened there July 4, 1954. The clubhouse was built in 1876 as a home for Samuel Hillen, a descendant of a wealthy Baltimore merchant family.

According to club members, the facility had 30,000 square feet of space and could accommodate 300 people for parties and other events.

The club has an 18-hole golf course, two swimming pools and eight tennis courts. The two-story clubhouse had contained two banquet rooms, a kitchen, a golf-course clubhouse and club offices.

Hillendale was originally located in 1923 on Loch Raven Boulevard in the city, north of the junction with Hillen Road.

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