SOUTH PORTLAND — It took 50 years for Red’s Dairy Freeze to build a fanatical following for its frozen soft-serve treats. 

But it only took a matter of minutes on Monday for demolition crews to reduce the building at the corner of Cottage Road and Highland Avenue to a pile of rubble.

“It’s sad,” said Mercedes Vance, who lives a few houses up the street. “It has such a long history and tradition. I just look at all these kids out here sobbing and it makes me sad.”

More than 50 people braved the mist and rain to watch crews demolish the landmark ice cream shop that was scorched by an electrical fire on May 16. 

Owner Chris Bolling couldn’t find the words to describe his emotions as workers from Maietta Construction tore down the business, established in 1952 by his father, Leonard “Red” Bolling.

“It came down quick,” said Bolling, who basically grew up in the building. “I’m reliving memories right now. There are so many. I can’t even think right now.”

Meanwhile, a group of former employees huddled in a small group, some teary-eyed, as the building was flattened. The experience was too intense for any of them to put into words.

Bolling said he intends to rebuild in the same style, but didn’t know if Red’s will reopen this year.

When it first opened, Red’s was originally operated as a Tastee Freeze franchise, until the name was changed in 1965.

Bolling said the large ice cream cone sign was removed from the building before the fire.

“It actually came down before the fire to be repainted,” he said. “It was just a coincidence. That was the original cone from when it was built.”

The South Portland Fire Department ruled the cause of fire to be accidental and did not ask the state fire marshal to investigate, according to Assistant Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas.

Bolling’s private loss consultant, John Harvey, said the company is still trying to reach a final settlement with its insurer.

While a more than $100,000 settlement has been reached for the replacement cost of the building, Harvey said an agreement has yet to be reached for the equipment that was destroyed.

Once that matter is settled, Harvey said it could take eight to 10 weeks to get new equipment.

“Whether or not we’ll be open by the end of the year, I don’t know,” Bolling said. “I would like to be.”

For those who watched on Monday, the reopening cannot come soon enough.

Three generations of the Tordoff family were on hand to watch the building come down. 

Kevin Tordoff, who moved to Lancaster, Pa., about 20 years ago, watched the demolition with his parents, wife and daughter. He said he and his sister, Amy, used to work at Red’s.

“I used to pick up trash for Red in elementary school,” Tordoff said. “He gave me a free butterscotch bar. It was probably valued at 7 cents at the time, but it was gold back then.”

Eleven-year-old Nat Jordan, of Cape Elizabeth, said it was “kind of sad” to watch the building come down.

“I’ve never watched a demolition before,” Jordan said over the noise made by heavy equipment, which filled the air with dust and the odor of soggy, burned wood. “But they’re going to rebuild.”

Meeting House Hill Resident Bob Robishaw brought a camera and tripod to document the destruction.

Robishaw said it was always a special occasion in his family when Red’s opened and closed for the season. That’s how the family marked the passing of the seasons.

“We figured summer’s here when Red’s opens,” he said. “When it closes, winter’s here.”

Robishaw, a South Portland firefighter who battled the May 19 blaze, said he is not dwelling on the past.

“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “We will have another century with Red’s here.”

Meanwhile, Bolling said he has been touched by the support of the community since the fire.

“The outpouring from the community has been incredible,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

A Maietta Construction employee salvages the lettering from what used to be the front of Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland. The building was demolished Aug. 16 after its interior was gutted by fire in May.

Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland is torn down Monday, Aug. 16, after a fire damaged the building in May.

The owner of Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland says the business will be re-established on the same site, at the intersection of Cottage Road, Highland Avenue and South Richland Street.

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