SOUTH PORTLAND – Fans are sad to see building razed, but looking forward to reconstruction.

SOUTH PORTLAND – A new chapter in the 58-year history of Red’s Dairy Freeze began this week when, on a rainy Monday morning, the popular Cottage Road ice cream shop was razed – exactly three months after an electrical fire caused substantial damage to the building’s interior.

“We are going to rebuild,” said owner Chris Bolling as he watched a crew from Maietta Construction clean up the demolition debris. “It is going to look the same as it did before.”

The structure took minutes to be demolished before a crowd of curious bystanders.

When the ice cream stand gets rebuilt and how long the process will take, Bolling said, is still unknown, as he is still settling with his insurance company.

Fans of Red’s are clearly distressed about the demolition, and have filled the Red’s Dairy Freeze Facebook page with messages.

“So sad to see it on the ground – it opened when I was 3 years old!!” wrote Susan Tupper Gillmor.

Janice Plunkett wrote: “Sad to see such a vital part of South Portland community come down, after so many wonderful years. Here’s hoping that the new Red’s will be up and running by the time I visit Maine again.”

Angela Gagne Tinkham posted: “So sad to see it come down – but excited that there will be a new building in it’s place.”

A similar thought was expressed by Margaret Anderson, who wrote: “Sad to see the old building go, but looking forward to a ‘grand reopening!'”

When the stand does get rebuilt, it will accommodate building code updates, be arranged more efficiently inside and have all new equipment, because, as Bolling said, the equipment was destroyed in the May 16 fire.

“I don’t know if we can open this year. It depends when we can start the work,” Bolling said. “There is a chance we will be open for a few weeks [this year]. If not we will be opened at the end of February.”

Traditionally the ice cream shop, started by Bolling’s father Leonard “Red” Bolling in 1952, has been open daily in the summer months 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closing some time in October.

Over the years the ice cream shop has been much more than a place to taste frozen treats or get a reprieve from the summer heat. It’s been a place where regulars would run into friends, co-workers and family members. A rite of passage at the nearby Brown Elementary School is for each class to take a trip to Red’s at the end of the school year. The shop is also commonly a stop on the way to and from nearby landmarks like Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light or Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth or Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland.

That was ended, temporarily, in the early morning hours of May 16 when a fire, thought to be electrical, erupted near the bathroom in the back of the building, totaling the inside.

The fire was reported to the South Portland Fire Department by a neighbor, who saw smoke billowing out of the roof. Shortly thereafter, Bolling was alerted to the fire through a call at his Cape Elizabeth home.

South Portland and Cape Elizabeth fire departments responded to the 3 a.m. call and had the fire under control within 20 minutes.

South Portland Fire Department Deputy Chief Steve Fox said two-thirds of the interior of the building was damaged.?The exterior of the building suffered little damage. The heat, which reached over 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, was trapped inside the building because of the structure’s cinderblock walls.

Since the fire, loyal Red’s customers have been quick to offer Bolling their well wishes and reminiscences as he works to rebound from the fire.

Bolling said he has been impressed with the support he has received so far and has promised Red’s will be back as soon as possible. Updates on the process have been available through both Twitter and Facebook.

“All the support from the public has been great,” Bolling said. “The phone calls, the mail, the messages on Facebook, it’s been nice.”

Curt Burrill stores the iconic red letters that for years identified the South Portland institution known as Red’s Dairy Freeze as the fire-damaged building was torn down on Aug.16. (Photo by Rich Obrey)The building housing Red’s Dairy Freeze is torn down after a fire in May severely damaged the inside. The owner of the South Portland institution says it will be rebuilt. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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