Fixer-upper destroyed in fire

By Jill Taylor, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2003

STUART -- A suspicious fire destroyed a Coral Gardens home under renovation early Tuesday, just three days after the owner and a buyer agreed to the terms of sale.

Martin McMahon said he was working with attorney Roy Allman to buy the old concrete block home at 4532 S.E. Alden St. and fix it up for resale.

The house, built in 1955 as one of the first models in the Coral Gardens subdivision, had no electricity and the windows were boarded. McMahon and another worker had been cleaning out the house and draining the algae-filled pool for three days with the permission of the seller even though the sale had not yet gone through.

"I was renovating it. I don't think I am any more," McMahon said Tuesday while investigators with the state fire marshall's office waited for an arson dog to arrive.

The fire was reported around 4:15 a.m. Tuesday and the whole building was in flames when the first firetrucks arrived. No one was hurt.

Investigators were still trying to determine the source and starting point for the blaze and did not return phone messages Tuesday afternoon.

It was unclear Tuesday whether owner Carol Ryan had maintained insurance on the house. McMahon said they would have to determine the status of the purchase bid in light of the damage.

Allman was buying the home for about $75,000 and hoped to sell it for more than $120,000 after the remodeling.

Even though it needed a lot of work, McMahon said there was heavy bidding competition for the house. He and Allman had a vision of re-creating the home as it once was -- a showcase for the middle-class neighborhood that built up around it.

"All the people in the neighborhood were coming by and shaking our hands," McMahon said. "Dreams go up in smoke."