New England Casket Co. Most Likely Won’t Rebuild in Eastie

The 75-year-old East Boston business that Louis Tobia Jr.’s Italian grandfather founded may not return to the neighborhood.

The New England Casket Company, which has won numerous awards in the industry for its innovation and casket designs, suffered a devastating fire last month that completely destroyed the company’s manufacturing warehouse on Bennington Street just past Orient Heights MBTA station.

On Friday, March 15 a nine-alarm fire ripped through the widely successful business that manufactures handmade caskets for sale to distributors that in turn sell them to funerals and families.

After the Boston Fire Dept. spent hours battling the fire all that was left of the longstanding local family-owned company that employed over 100 people was rubble.

Last week WBZ’s Karyn Regal reported that Tobia doesn’t think he can rebuild in Eastie and will most likely take the business elsewhere.

Tobia is looking at locations like the former Malden Mills site in Lawrence as well as a site in Chelsea.

The New England Casket Company was known as the inventor of the ‘Concord Casket’ designed by Tobia’s grandfather. Retailing for around $25,000 it became the casket of choice for the rich and famous and the likes of Muhammad Ali, Heath Ledger, Walter Cronkite, Joan Rivers and Tip O’Neill all were all reportedly interred in the Concord.

According to the Boston Fire Dept. the first alarms for a fire on the roof of the plant’s sounded at around 3 p.m. on March 15. For a few hours Boston Firefighters tried to extinguish that flames that seemed to be contained to the casket company’s roof.

However, Tobia later explained that one of the plant’s furnace exhaust pipes started the fire and because the fire was above the building’s water sprinkler system the system was never activated. Flames and burning debris began falling through the roof and into the plant below that contained mostly highly flammable lumber and chemicals for varnishing caskets.

By early evening the fire had spread to a very rare nine-alarm blaze as fire stations from across the city rushed to Eastie to contain the blaze.

The huge building, which abuts the MBTA Blue Line between Orient Heights and Suffolk Downs train stations, is close to 100,000 square feet and burned for nearly 12 hours.

The fire forced the suspension of the Blue Line from Airport MBTA station to Wonderland station for three days.

More than half of all on duty Boston firefighters from across the city fought the inferno into the early morning hours and the heavy thick black smoke could be seen from as far away as Lynn. The smoke and wind conditions forced the City to evacuate a portion of the hill around Orient Avenue. Officials feared the burning chemicals inside the plant was causing toxic conditions in and around the fire.

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