WEST CAPE MAY — A fire destroyed the home office of the East Lynne Theater Company, the performance center’s board of trustees said Thursday.
West Cape May fire Chief Chuck McPherson said the Fire Department received a 911 call about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday from a nearby landscaper who saw smoke coming from a home in the 100 block of Fourth Avenue.
When crews arrived, McPherson said, the two-story single-family home was fully engulfed in flames. The Cape May City Fire Department was called for mutual aid.
McPherson said the fire was under control within a half-hour, but the fire caused extensive damage. The cause is under investigation by the Cape May County fire marshal.
The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire, and no one was injured, officials said.
“The biggest problem is, we start rehearsals in a month,” said East Lynne Theater Company Artistic Director Gayle Stahlhuth.
The West Cape May cottage was used as an office for the theater company, as well as Stahlhuth and her husband’s summer home since 1993. “It’s where we set up an office, where Lee and I lived in the summer, and where our actors stayed,” said Stahlhuth.
Stahlhuth said she and her husband split time between Cape May and New York. The couple, who have been active with the theater company since the late 1980s, fell in love with the area and purchased the West Cape May cottage to work for the theater company.
“The staff is primarily me and my husband and the hub was 4th Avenue”. said Stahlhuth.
The office space of the home was primarily used to store documents, scripts and various records and files. Stahlhuth noted miraculously, the office telephone line was still functioning Thursday.
Stahlhuth said the cottage has historical significance and guessed it may have once been moved from South Cape May. “You can tell from the nails in the floor the house was built between 1840 and 1860,” said Stahlhuth, “it was a funky little beach cottage. So many people in the area liked that we kept the look of our house.”
The West Cape May Fire Department estimated extensive damage to the house. Stahlhuth said she doesn’t believe she could rebuilt the house because of its historic construction.
In a social media post, the theater company said it is looking for a temporary office space, as well as possible accommodations for actors during the theater’s upcoming season.
“Our season and company’s future depends on finding these solutions in the next few days,” the board said in a statement.
East Lynne Theater Company has nine shows scheduled for the next season, beginning May 16.