Sunnyside fire levels businesses

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Fire rapidly consumed the...

By Dustin Brown

Three popular businesses along Queens Boulevard were destroyed last Thursday morning when a four-alarm fire raged through the building, attracting a crowd of hundreds who watched firefighters douse the smoldering remains.

Fire rapidly consumed the one-story commercial structure at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 46th Street, which housed J.J. Gilligan’s sports bar, the Dae Dong Korean restaurant, and a corner fruit market.

The fire was reported at 5:10 a.m. and went to a fourth alarm by 5:45 a.m., FDNY spokesman Firefighter Patrick Cleary said. Firefighters responded within three minutes and put the blaze under control by 8:15 a.m., although they remained on the scene for hours to put out lingering patches of burning rubble.

Residents of an adjacent building on 46th Street were evacuated shortly after firefighters arrived, and were allowed back into their apartments once the fire was under control.

The owner agreed to tear down the charred remnants of the building, where the entire roof had collapsed , leaving only three resilient steel beams.

“The building had to be taken down for emergency demolition because the damage was so great, just to return the area back to a safe condition,” said Frank McCarton, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management.

Fire officials on the scene said they believed the fire started in the kitchen of the Korean restaurant.

Although firefighters said they first tried to fight the blaze from inside the building, the fire was so intense that they were quickly ordered out.

“There was already fire through the roof — advanced fire upon arrival,” said Capt. James Ryan. “We fought the fire for a short period of time, then the chief sized things up and it was better we were out.”

City and community leaders promised to provide guidance and financial assistance to businesses affected by the blaze.

“It was a really sad day for the community,” said Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, which covers Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Long Island City. “We’re hoping that the landowner will get it built again quickly.”

Gilligan’s owner Margaret Cahalan said Monday morning she plans to reopen the bar, whether or not the owner rebuilds on the site.

“My plans are just to look for somewhere else in the area and to start up again as soon as I can,” Cahalan said.

The mayor’s office promised to help business owners get funding so they could rapidly rebuild.

“Giuliani spoke with me on Thursday and promised some kind of help from the city,” Cahalan said.

J.J. Gilligan’s was a popular 46th Street sports bar, drawing a predominantly Irish crowd to watch televised international soccer matches and other sporting events brought in by a large satellite propped on the roof. The bar burned to the ground a day shy of Cahalan’s first anniversary as owner.

Dae Dong was an elegant Korean restaurant and banquet hall.

Thomas Kim, whose father owns TK Video a few doors down from the fire, said the restaurant’s opening was one of the first prominent signs of the rapidly growing Korean presence in the neighborhood.

Kim said the restaurant’s owner, Sung Kim, was too distraught to speak with anyone on the morning about the fire.

“He couldn’t talk to anyone, not even his employees, because he’s so sad,” Thomas Kim said. “This was the heart of his business, because it started here.”

Sung Kim also owns Dae Dong restaurants in Bayside and Manhattan.

The fruit stand was owned for about four years by a Korean man named Ho Nam, one of his employees said.

“The fruit stand is the most popular in the neighborhood — the best fruit in the neighborhood,” said Allegra Ruiz, 29, who lives a few blocks from the fire.

For onlookers with a history in the neighborhood, the fire brought back memories of another blaze that destroyed a building only two blocks away on Queens Boulevard and 48th Street. The lot remained empty for nearly a decade after the fire, and only now is a new structure being built there.

“We would hope it would be rebuilt soon and it will not be like the other eyesore we had for 10 years,” said CB 2 District Manager Dolores Rizzotto.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered under the No. 7 train tracks and along 46th Street to watch as firefighters continued to douse the charred remains well after the fire came under control.

The facade of Dae Dong along Queens Boulevard remained standing relatively unharmed, its Oriental roof and Korean lettering still intact despite the devastation behind them. Apples had toppled off the stalls from the fruit market and into the street, strewn beside the twisted remains of the blue-and-yellow awning which sat limply on the sidewalk.

The only recognizable site in Gilligan’s was the charred frame of its satellite dish, which stood like an enormous carriage wheel in the blackened ruins of the pub.

Ronald Lichtman, a representative for the building’s owner, Solil Management Corp., stood on the rooftop of an adjoining apartment building, surveying the charred ruins below. He leaned over the building’s edge, a Dunkin Donuts cup in hand, and declined to comment about the fire.

“I’m just here for the coffee,” he said.

Jennifer Warren contributed to this story

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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