EAST MADISON — A smoke detector chirped from the otherwise quiet woods Wednesday at East Madison Square Garden.

The sound was coming from inside the building, which for nearly three decades was home to live music, drama and dance and where sometime this winter the roof had collapsed under the weight of the snow load.

Richard Roberts on Wednesday surveys the remains of the East Madison Square Garden building that found Tuesday to be collapsed under the weight of snow. Roberts and others built the structure in 1991 for theater performances and other events. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

No one was there to see or hear it happen, but there it was Wednesday, the shingled roof and three walls sticking out of the snow like broken bones.

“I just got a message yesterday from a neighbor who was driving by and sent a picture. That was the first notice we had that something had happened,” said Brian Richmond, who in 1991 donated land for the future East Madison Square Garden. “I really don’t know when it happened — sometime this winter — but nobody was down there. I really am tremendously sad about the loss of the building. There’s so much history in that building.”

The building was insured, but it is uncertain to what extent the policy will cover the damage with the snow load not having been removed.

“The whole project began in ’91. The idea was to have a community center for all of our art and music,” Richmond said. “We put out the word and 50 people showed up. We probably started construction in ’92. There was so much art and music and bands and drama in our community, and we wanted a place to perform those and also a place for the community to gather.”

Performances have included plays put on by local playwrights Anna Freeman and Bob Lovelace and live music from a younger generation including Clay Camero, So Many Chills and Uncle Spudd last summer.

Richard Roberts on Wednesday walks on wall and roof sections that collapsed under snow at the East Madison Square Garden building. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“The destruction of our wonderful East Madison Square Garden is a devastating loss,” Freeman said in an email Wednesday to the Morning Sentinel. “Incredible volunteer efforts over these many years went into constructing this building — a beautiful venue for all kinds of gatherings.

“From our memorial for 9/11 to celebrations for weddings, birthdays, and marriage anniversaries, it also housed classes, arts shows, concerts and dances in addition to producing  original plays such as Bob Lovelace’s hit show Lenonism and several of mine. I had already created, in my mind, the set of my latest play scheduled for the fall. Although I know that our strong community will rally to rebuild, the loss is still heartbreaking.”

Many of the original participants in the founding of East Madison Square Garden were post-hippie back-to-the-landers who had settled in West Athens, Bingham, Solon and East Madison.

One of them was Richard Roberts, who for many years was the emcee for the play that followed the now-defunct West Athens Fourth of July parade. Roberts was at the site Wednesday, surveying the damage.

“I was just heartbroken,” Roberts said of when he first saw the collapsed building. “I had just sent out our annual letter that we do for a little fundraiser.”

Roberts said it appears that the roof collapsed into the center of the building, bringing down the two side walls and flattening the front wall.

A painting of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung survived the collapse of the roof and walls from heavy snow at the East Madison Square Garden building. The wreckage was discovered Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Three or 4 feet of frozen snow still clung to the rubble Wednesday. The 40-by-40-foot building is about 10 miles north of downtown Skowhegan, off Bagley Road and the dead-end Tupper Road.

“This is where all the sets were painted for the West Athens play from the ’90s on,” Roberts said. The annual July Fourth event was put on by the politically irreverent In Spite of Life Players. “All the meetings for the plays would be here.”

Some of the props remained Wednesday, buried amid the plywood and trusses that once held the Garden.

“All the sets are underneath there right now,” he said “With those trusses, all you need is one to go. Then the whole thing just gets unloaded and that’s it. It came in and just blew the outside wall right out.”

The old light board that Brian Harville had made back in the 1970s for the Cornville Players was inside the building when the roof came down, Roberts said.

Roberts said the one concern came when the insurance adjuster asked if they had shoveled the roof at any time this past, very snowy and cold winter.

The East Madison Square Garden building is a crumbled mass of roof, walls, floors, stage lights, props and snow Wednesday. The building off Tupper Road was discovered destroyed on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“She asked about shoveling this thing off. It didn’t occur to people because we always thought it was just so well built,” he said. “It’s been here since ’91, and I know we had some hellish snowstorms since then, but this winter it never melted. It just kept piling up and piling up.”

East Madison Square Garden is a nonprofit organization, which this year will re-establish its 501(c) 3 status.

As for what’s next, Roberts and Richmond said they will just have to wait until all the snow melts. They will probably salvage as much of the building materials as they can and look toward the future while waiting for word from the insurance carrier.

“We hope to rebuild,” Richmond said. “The amount of support that we’ve gotten in just the past 24 hours from the community has been huge. The support has come from the greater community than just the original community that started it. It’s come from people that have been to the building over the years and appreciated what was there. The best outcome is that we will rebuild.”


Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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