As the demolition continued at the site of the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, fire investigators are asking for patience as they try to figure out what sparked the large inferno that destroyed the historic and cultural landmark this weekend.
People are still stunned and there is a real sense of loss in the town, even though the theater had not been active for many years.
“It’s still a part of Stratford you know, it’s just part of the town,” said Diana Woodward, who recalled seeing a show at the theatre when she was growing up. “It really is sad because it’s such an institution. I mean it was on the national news last night so I know my friends in Texas heard about it.”
On Monday, Woodward had to see for herself the destruction caused by the early Sunday morning fire.
“Maybe it could be from the ashes rebirth,” she said.
Opened in 1955 and mostly vacant since the 1980s, the Town of Stratford acquired the Shakespeare Theatre from the state in 2005.
“The deed restrictions if you will would limit it to not only open space, but also recreation and entertainment purposes,” said State Sen.Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) during a Monday afternoon news conference at town hall.
Mayor Laura Hoydick said the town never executed an agreement with a developer or operator to breathe new life into the theater where the likes of Katharine Hepburn, James Earl Jones and Christopher Walken once performed.
“Our lack of a cohesive vision, let me say it that way was the roadblock,” Mayor Hoydick said. “There were many who were impassioned about what should happen there and there were many that had individual efforts.”
The mayor said the town council, with input from the community, will eventually decide what happens to the property.
But first, fire investigators led by the Stratford Fire Marshal are trying to figure out the cause of the fire.
“There’s a systematic way of us investigating the fire, so we start eliminating sections,” Fire Marshal Brian Lampart said.
Investigators are not ruling anything out, including arson, but so far they have not found any evidence of fire accelerants, Lampart said. They also want to find out whether the sprinkler system was working.
“The building is almost 100 percent covered with sprinkler protection and that is definitely something we’re going to be looking at,” said Lampart, who was unaware when the sprinkler system was last inspected.
Deb Persson from Milford told NBC Connecticut she hopes the place will remain a space for the performing arts.
“I think it would be awesome if they would put a park in and maybe put in an outdoor theater for the kids to do their plays in the summer,” she said, “and put some gardens in. And I think they could do a lot with it, I hope that’s what they do.”
Given the size of the fire, it could take some time before investigators determine the cause. The strongest flames were in the area of the stage when firefighters arrived minutes after the first 911 call, Lampart said.
State resources, including a state police K9, have been requested to help with the fire investigation.
It is worth noting William Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre in London was also destroyed by fire.