Former Schwartz home damaged by fire

The Muriel Schwartz house at 801 North State Street in Dover was gutted by fire. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Muriel Schwartz house at 801 N. State St. in Dover was gutted by fire. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Two firefighters were taken to the hospital Thursday night after responding to a blaze at the former home of late theater owner and civic leader Muriel Schwartz.

City of Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said he visited the firefighters at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital and said they were evaluated for chest and stomach pains and then released in good condition.

The blaze at 801 N. State Street was reported to the Dover Fire Department at approximately 6:43 p.m., and Mayor Christiansen said he arrived to see heavy smoke and fire coming from the building.

On Friday, L.D. Shank III, who owns the property with his family through the 801 Gold Coast LLC, described the damage as “somewhat extensive” after driving by it. He said a sun porch on the west side appeared to be “scorched.”

The 2,200 to 2,300 square foot colonnaded home with two floors, an attic and basement has limited value, according to Mr. Shank, but the little over two acre property has great commercial potential.

According to Mr. Shank, city officials “led me to believe some homeless people or vagrants may have been living in it. “We had it boarded up and it was very secure.”

The property has not been officially occupied for several years. Muriel and her stepmother Reba lived in the home until Reba died in 1995.

“I’m overjoyed that whoever was staying there was not hurt,” he said. “The disappointment is that it’s going to now cost me to fix the problem.”

City of Dover Fire Marshal Jason Osika estimated damages at $125,000 and described a “significant amount of fire, smoke, and heat damage to the interior of the residence due to the fire.”

Mr. Osika said investigation into the cause and origin of the blaze is ongoing.

The property was rezoned to C-2A (Limited Central Commercial Zone) in 2015, according to Dover Director of Planning and Community Development Ann Marie Townshend. Currently, it’s registered as a vacant building with the city.

“We have not received a development application for the site,” she said.

Saying the real estate market would determine the property’s future, Mr. Shank said he could envision a restaurant, condominiums or apartments eventually filling the void.

Mr. Shank said the property was covered by liability insurance, but did not have fire insurance.

“It was going to get torn down sooner or later and I was hoping that the ultimate developer would be the one to do it,” Mr. Shank.

Now, Mr. Shank said he will consider three bids regarding how to handle the structure, waiting first for the City of Dover to evaluate what safety measures must be met.

The property is situated on the east side of North State Street between Lepore Road and the Silver Lake bridge, and overlooks Silver Lake.

Describing the house as “1920s vintage that doesn’t have fire stops in the walls as today’s houses do” Mayor Christiansen said firefighters “executed a great operation in knocking down” the blaze.

Regarding the firefighters taken to the hospital, Mayor Christiansen, a former DFD member said, “The (public) takes for granted the men and women of the fire service when the truck goes passing by, but when they pull out of the station they’re not sure they’ll ever come back. …”

For years, the Schwartz home was a prominent New Year’s Eve gathering place for various community leaders and officials.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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