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FIRE DEVASTATES NEW YORK LANDMARK

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NEW YORK-Operators of a landmark restaurant in New York's Grand Central Terminal are fully insured for a fire that gutted most of the restaurant last week.

The Oyster Bar & Restaurant, a fabled New York spot that has occupied sweeping subterranean rooms at Grand Central for more than 80 years, was devastated by an intense after-hours blaze that destroyed its kitchen, incinerated three dining and bar rooms, and blackened its distinctive vaulted tile ceilings.

The fire broke out about 2: 30 a.m. June 29 and quickly went to four alarms, with 192 firefighters and 39 New York Fire Department vehicles responding, a fire department spokesman said.

Nine firefighters, a police officer and four civilians suffered minor injuries fighting the smoky blaze, which occurred after the last Metro North Commuter Railroad train had left and the station was largely empty.

Fire officials do not consider the blaze suspicious. Mark Abrahamson, the Oyster Bar's general manager, said the fire apparently started in a refrigerator motor.

Mr. Abrahamson said he could not estimate the damages but that the restaurant-owned by New York businessman Jerry Brody-is "completely insured" by Crum & Forster Corp. affiliates.

Loss adjusters visited the scene last week to begin working up an estimate of the loss, a Crum & Forster spokeswoman confirmed.

While a faint odor of smoke lingered in the terminal's lofty main concourse last week, the damage was confined to the lower level restaurant and some ductwork, the fire department spokesman said.

Grand Central, a 1913 Beaux Arts landmark, is undergoing a $114 million renovation that includes new air conditioning and sprinkler systems; extensive rebuilding of ramps, escalators and retail space; and restoration of the terminal's 150 foot-high barrel-vaulted sky ceiling (BI, Feb. 27, 1995).

Officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Grand Central's operator and manager of the renovation project, said the Oyster Bar fire has not exposed the MTA to any losses.

The renovation has proceeded while the terminal remarkably continues to handle half a million commuters a day, despite a huge interior scaffolding system and partial interior demolition that has rerouted corridors, closed stairways and relocated ticket booths.

Now added to the commotion will be reconstruction of the 84-year-old Oyster Bar.

Last week, most of the restaurant was a soot-blackened shell, its ceilings missing many terra cotta tiles and its floors littered with broken tile and glass.

Some areas escaped relatively unscathed, Mr. Abrahamson reported. The Oyster Bar Saloon, a small dining room at one end of the larger restaurant, suffered smoke damage but no other serious harm. Also, an "apartment" below the Oyster Bar that served as the restaurant's office was untouched, he said.

The kitchen, though, will have to be totally rebuilt, and most of the tile-lined dining space repaired and refurnished after the fire consumed virtually everything in those rooms.

Gutted were the restaurant's main dining room, a bar area and an adjoining dining room whose serpentine lunch counters were crowded daily with hurried commuters and tourists.

The fire apparently caused no serious structural damage, and the toughest job, Mr. Abrahamson said, may be restoring the terra cotta-tiled ceiling to its original condition, a requirement of the city landmarks law.

"That's why I can't give you a (damage) estimate," he said. "That ceiling could cost a fortune."

Despite the building's age, though, the tile needed for the ceiling is "not uncommon," and similar tile has been used recently in other New York City restoration projects, including one at the city hall, he said.

Mr. Abrahamson said he hopes to have the Oyster Bar & Restaurant back in business within a month.