Fire tears through historic mansion in New Rochelle

NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- Firefighters battled a fire at a historic mansion in Westchester County Monday, and it remains unclear if the fire is suspicious.

Officials say the flames broke out in the abandoned property on Wildcliff Road in New Rochelle, at the site of an old mansion owned by the city that has been walled off for some time.

Police do not believe anyone was in the house, which was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived.

They prevented the fire from spreading, but they were unable to prevent the old stone mansion from burning.

"It's an abandoned mansion, it's been abandoned for years," New Rochelle Fire Chief Andy Sandro said. "The windows are boarded up and everything. I mean, the place is going to have to be razed."

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson called it one of the city's significant historic properties. The mansion was built in 1855 and donated to the city in 1940.

After being used for city offices, the building housed a variety of not-for-profit groups and functions, including Wildcliff Natural Science Center, East Coast Performing Arts and Wildcliff Center for the Arts.

The city had plans to restore the building but had not started that project. Gas was recently turned off in the mansion, so it is not clear how the fire started.

At a press conference Tuesday, officials acknowledged people had broken into the structure over the years and said there were times that people had to be blocked from entering the property. The windows were only recently boarded up -- including some just hours before the fire.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2002 and is a locally designated site.

Police say they are now taking added precautions to ensure the property is secure form people who don't belong there.

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