3-alarm blaze destroys restaurant

Fire insurance had lapsed at Severna Park landmark

Property was being sold

Severna Park

January 31, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Fire officials were investigating yesterday an early-morning blaze that destroyed a beloved waterfront restaurant in Severna Park - a total loss for the uninsured owners, who had a contract to sell the property.

The fire, which began at about 3:45 a.m., caused more than $1 million in damage to the Riverdale Restaurant on the Magothy River, officials said. Yesterday afternoon, only a few brick walls were standing amid piles of charred wood and twisted steel.

Seventy-five firefighters battled the blaze on Inverness Road for three hours before getting it under control. A firefighter was treated at a hospital for exhaustion, officials said.

Neighbors Neil Van Malderghem and Cherie Crossman were asleep in their home next door to the restaurant when they were awakened by firefighters pounding on their front door.

The couple grabbed their dog and fled the house as firefighters began spraying the roof with water to extinguish sparks that had landed on it.

"It was unbelievable," said Crossman, whose home suffered $20,000 in damage. "The tops of the trees were on fire."

Restaurant owner Delores Vane, 68, said she and her husband, Charles Vane, 69, had been in Fenwick Island, Del., for a few days working on a property they own when they learned about the fire from a television report.

"Just one sentence was all we saw," Delores Vane said yesterday afternoon from her home on Riverdale Drive, around the corner from the restaurant. "It said: `Three-alarm fire, Riverdale Inn in Severna Park.'"

She and her husband had been planning to retire and were selling the restaurant. They had signed a contract with a buyer willing to pay $1 million for the property, Vane said.

"It was worth more than that, but we wanted to retire," she said.

In October, the couple allowed their fire insurance to lapse. "It was $15,000 a year, and I didn't have it," Vane said.

Charles Vane's parents, Allen and Margaret Vane, a beer truck driver and a homemaker, bought the restaurant in 1952 and operated it until they wearied of the long hours and sold the place in 1961.

In 1980, their son, who had worked as a bartender in his parent's establishment, and his wife bought the single-story, red brick-and-wood restaurant with large windows overlooking the river.

For the next two decades, the Vanes served beer and crab cakes to customers and neighbors, and were hosts to Rotary Club meetings, birthdays and Super Bowl parties. Four generations of the Vane family, including the couple's nieces, daughters and a grand-niece, worked in the restaurant tending the bar and waiting tables.

Charles Vane's younger sister, Beverly Despeaux, recalled spending a happy childhood in her parents' restaurant. "We had dinner there. I did my homework there," Despeaux said. "We did everything there."

Despeaux, 61, said she was 11 when she met the boy who later become her husband. They listened to jukebox music together in the section of the restaurant set aside for children.

Severna Park Rotary Club President Norm Ansley said he would miss the restaurant, where his club used to meet each week for dinner.

"It had a nice view of the waterfront, but I think people went there for the food ... and the friendly atmosphere," Ansley said. "You could get crab cakes that were better than you could get anywhere else."

Delores Vane said she and her husband will try to recoup their losses by selling the land.

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