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Fire ravages Elmwood landmark

In many ways, the Elmwood Parish Commons building that sustained an estimated $1.2 million damage in a two-alarm fire early Wednesday morning embodies all that's so attractive about Elmwood Avenue.

The sprawling 25,000-square-foot office building at 656 Elmwood Ave. reflects much of the eclectic, funky spirit of the Elmwood Village area.

Home to Medical Care of Western New York, a multidisciplinary and holistic medical office, the building houses the offices of the Bikram Yoga Studio, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, physical therapists and an orthotics-prosthetics practice.

It also represents a creative reuse of a former church, English Evangelist Church of the Redeemer, which was first converted into business offices in the mid-1980s.

"Our hope is that the owner will be able to reuse the whole building," said Justin Azzarella, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association.

"It has brought people to the street for all different reasons, and it complements other businesses on the street," he added. "There is not another building anywhere that looks like that building. That's what's great about Elmwood."

Flames raced through the office building, at the southwest corner of Elmwood and West Ferry Street, as firefighters responded to a 2:17 a.m. alarm at the three-story frame building.

Buffalo fire officials estimated that the blaze left $1 million damage to the building and $200,000 to its contents, although they emphasized that insurance adjusters would compile a more definitive estimate.

Medical Care of Western New York delivers primary care, internal medicine, physical therapy, OB/GYN services and chiropractic and acupuncture services to its patients.

"I don't know what I'm going to do at this point," the owner, a still-stunned Dr. Michael D. Calabrese, said Wednesday. "You worry about the patients, about the staff members who are without jobs and about the patients who need their treatments, their physical therapy, their prescriptions and their pain management."

Calabrese estimated that it might take more than a year to refurbish the building and re-establish it as a landmark on Elmwood Avenue. "I'm going to stick with it and turn it around again," he said of the building that he bought in September 2006 after opening his business there in 2000.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Garnell M. Smith said the fire apparently started in the third-floor yoga studio, before flames ripped through the roof in that section of the building. The structure is L-shaped, and most of the damage seemed confined to the area that runs north and south, parallel to Elmwood Avenue.

The cause remains under investigation, Smith said.


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