Arson strikes church in historic theater

Firefighters responding to a pull box alarm on Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road found smoke pouring out of the New Fellowship Baptist Church early on Saturday morning. Rushing to discover the source, they found a back door to the church open and fires in multiple locations inside, including the stage.

"The firefighters ruled that the fire was set," said Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald. "They based that on the fact that the fire was in multiple locations… and they ruled out all the other possible causes."

The department estimated the damage at $250,000.

Before becoming a church in the early '60s, the building at 616 Blue Hill Ave. was the Franklin Park Theatre, originally founded as a Yiddish theatre around 1914, according to Cinematreasures.org, and later became a movie theatre.

Rev. Stanley Deas and flock reportedly plan to rebuild. Calls to the church went unanswered this week. The fire also brought attention to a property tax debt that dates back to 1964, now totaling close to $359,000. Though the church itself is exempt from taxes, a handful of storefronts it rents out in front of the theatre are not.

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