Fire destroys Elena’s Soul

December 24, 2012

Elena's Soul

We’re sad to report that this afternoon a fire destroyed Algernong Allen’s Elena’s Soul, a popular restaurant and bar on the 4900 block of Baltimore Avenue. Fortunately there were no injuries in the fire, which damaged all three floors of the building at 4912 Baltimore Avenue.

The fire, which started at about 1 p.m., reportedly caused some damage to the Cedar Park Cafe and Gary’s Nails, the two businesses on either side of Elena’s. The cause of the fire has not yet been reported.

We’ll report more details as we get them.

Neighbor Shenid Bhayroo sent the video below. It was shot at about 2:45 p.m. A reader named Ashley sent the photo. Thanks Shenid and Ashley.

24 Comments For This Post

  1. Danielle Stimpson Says:

    I am so, so sorry to see this. Can West Philly Local please report on any fundraisers for them?

  2. Suzanne Says:

    I watched this for the entire afternoon. Elena’s backs up to my block. With a breaking heart I watched the confused firefighters try to find a way to access Elena’s from Pentridge. They went around the block a few times, ran around , got ladders from a neighbor and then couldn’t get the fire hydrant to work on the 4900 block of Pentridge. There was talk that this wasn’t our local fire company responding because our fire company was closed due to the “brown out”. Elena’s was burning for almost 40 mins before any water was turned onto the back of the building, where black smoke and flames were billowing out.

    They didn’t seem to initially have enough firefighters so they had some of the neighbors hustle hoses to and fro. It’s now 10:45 pm and there is still a firetruck on Pentridge and most of 49th-50th from Pentridge to Catherine is closed. The smoke smell permeates everything and the flashing lights pierce through the darkness.

    And my heart is heavy for my new friend and neighbor who had to watch while his business burned in front of him.

    Prayers and love to Algernong, his family and his workers.

  3. Jeff Says:

    This was a very special place for many in the neighborhood and beyond with a long rich history. Algernong should know that he has a community of support behind him on this Christmas Eve and we’ll do anything we can.

  4. Bill Hangley Says:

    Suzanne, I was there briefly around 1:30-2 PM & saw the same thing – lots of firefighters on the scene, trying various ways to get stuff in, some apparent uncertainty about that fire hydrant on the 4900 block of Pentridge, neighbors helping out.

    A friend who was helping out said that one issue that made the response look uncertain to the layman’s eye was that they wanted to cut holes in the roof & vent it properly before going inside & putting water on it, but I must admit I thought it a bit strange that while this thick yellow greasy smoke was pouring out of the back of E’s, a handful of firefighters were standing on the street in front of the bar. People were still coming and going from the liquor store at that point … eventually they did smash their way in, but it’ll be interesting to hear if the response was in any way slower than it could have been, whether due to the “brown out” or anything else.

  5. Naomi Says:

    I walked up to find the first fire truck on the scene and it didn’t look that bad. I stayed for a while and it just kept getting worse. It breaks my heart because this was so much more than just a bar or just a building for so many neighbors going back decades. I’m hoping for a phoenix to rise up from the ashes.

  6. Toni Starr Says:

    I was just there on Friday. Algernong is a good guy and Elena’s Soul has become like a second home since I moved to West Philly over a year ago. Algernong even let me hang my artwork in the establishment so I could sell it and donate the proceeds to charity. I know the bartenders, the workers, Danno the Dj and I am still in disbelief that this happened. My heart and prayers definitely go out to Algernong and his family at this time.

  7. Bob Helms Says:

    Over ten years ago I came across a news article from 1908, when a bar at that address (where Elena’s is) was applying for its license to sell liquor, and the two large nearby churches (Calvary and the one that’s Hickman Temple now) were opposing it in City Council. There are grainy photos of the street & park, showing a flat triangle (Not a tree or shrub in the whole park). The neighborhood was still newly developed then, of course.

    I’ll circulate the article properly when I return from my holiday travels.

    104 years of History! I hope more will be shared about Elena’s, LeRoy’s, and the earlier incarnations of the place.

  8. John Childress Says:

    So sorry for your loss brother. We will all help you rebuild and make it bigger and better than ever before!

  9. ashley Says:

    From what I could see from the island between Baltimore and Catherine, the firefighters were hustling at their jobs. As I don’t have any firefighting training, I won’t second guess them.

  10. Andrew Says:

    There is a fundraiser this Monday, Jan 28, for Elena’s at 5075 Lancaster from 8pm-12am. This Facebook page has more info:

  11. Anonymous Says:

    The person above means Friday, December 28th.

  12. Andrew Says:

    Yes, I do. Apologies.

  13. Bill Greene Says:

    pardon my ignorance, and i’m probably opening a touchy can of worms here, but what is “the brown out”?

  14. Dre Says:

    @ashley I wouldn’t discount what the neighbors saw right from the first spark either…and Bill, a “brown out” is when there’s electricity/power outage. I’m sure google can clarify it better though, haha. Happy holidays to all, and sorry for your loss, Al!!! We’ll support in any way that we can!

  15. Eve Says:

    So that’s a dark title…

    Very sorry to hear.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    A brown out related to firefighting is when the city rotates closing fire houses temporarily on a rotating basis as a cost saving measure. Other nearby firehouses are kept open to cover the area but critics say this has resulted in an increased response time and firefighters unfamiliar with the property they’re firefighting. Firehouses as part of their training periodically survey the properties in their coverage area. It has been said that the firefighter fatalities at the warehouse fire in Kensington might have been avoided if the responding firehouse had been the one closest and most familiar with the properties.

  17. Bisniss Says:

    how about a fundraiser for the working people there.
    im sure the insurance check will ease the owners pain.

  18. Andrew Says:

    Oh, are you familiar with the policy Elena’s owner had?

  19. Tieasha Says:

    For 4yrs I’ve known to grow and love Wayne and Al and others that work there, I myself work at the wine and spirits nxt to them.I’m all for the fundraising. LET’S GET IT BALTIMORE AVE REMBER YOUR JAZZ FRIDAY NIGHTS.

  20. Claudia Says:

    Sooo sorry to hear- I’ve spent many a nights at Elena’s, it is truly a gem- love everyone there- my hearts go out- but looking forward to their come back!

  21. A Says:

    And your formal fire training is what Suzanne?….That’s what I thought. It’s a shame that you can come on a site like this and paint the firefighters that worked so diligent for 15 hours that day as incompetant. There were other factors involed that you will never know. How do I know? Because I was one of the first firefighters on scene. I won’t attempt to explain strategy and tactics to you, but I will say that there is reason for every action taken on the fireground, even if you don’t understand them. But I won’t turn this into a debate, I mearly felt compelled to not let your unsubstatiated “opinions” go unchecked. First and foremost, our condolences go out Al and his family and employees as well as the neighboring buisinesses. You see Suzanne, Al is “our” neighbor too, and a friend of the fire department. We have had a great relationship with “our” neighbors for 110 years, how bout you? So, with all do respect, please don’t infere that incompetence or lack of effort contributed to the end result at Elaina’s….that is simply not the case.

  22. Suzanne Says:


    Come on. My observations were descriptive and not opinion-based. I am sad about this. Very sad. And watched the whole thing with my neighbors. I don’t have to have any credentials to report what I saw. If you were there and fought that fire, or any other fire, thank you. But that does not negate what I, Bill Hangley (post #3 above), and many many other people, saw.

    If the PFD released a statement about the early moments of the firefighting explaining the difficulties with getting some water on the rear part of the property, I missed it. Could you post a link? If they have not responded, than it is human nature to wonder and project onto a blank screen.

    Can you clarify if it was our local firehouse that responded or another one? Was our local house in a “brown out” status? Are you from our local firehouse?

    Regardless, I remain concerned that the fire hydrant didn’t’ initially work and fear it might not work for the next fire. I am not alone in this concern.

    Can you point me in the direction of some sort of maintenance protocol or log so I can make sure the hydrants in my neighborhood are functional and ready to go when needed? Or maybe, can you explain why the hydrant on the 4900 block of Pentridge didn’t’ work at first? Thank would be both helpful and appreciated.

    Thank you.

  23. A Says:

    @Suzanne, like I said previously my intent was not to debate this issue or discuss strategy and tactics (why we do what we do), but I will address a couple of your concers. But I will preface this by saying the only reason I even commented in the first place was because of your comment of “they couldn’t get the hydrant to work” which implies that the hydrant was fine, it was just the FF’s that couldn’t operate it. Big differance from your above statement of “the fire hydrant didn’t work”. I may be looking at it a lil too closely, but me along with all my brother and sister firefighters work very hard that you and all of our neighbors get the best, most competent FD that is possible and any inferance that we are less than that is insulting to me.I was not on Pentridge St. so I can’t attest to that hydrant in particular, but I will say there was alot of problems with the water grid that day. There were “dead” hydrants in several other spots also, and the one’s that did work had very poor pressure. This is a water dept. issue, the FD has nothing to do with this. The FD does however check each and every hydrant in the city at least once a year and report any deficiancies to the water dept. The first in co. was your local Engine co, however they do get “browned out” which should be a bigger issue in a community such as ours that is increasingly proactive. But that discussion is a whole different animal.The original dispatch was for “rubbish” or trash in the rear of the building, that’s why the companies “rode around” as you put it, to get a first hand look at what could have been just a big pile of tires,trash,etc. burning. When they seen it was an interior fire they immediatly took their position in the front per our protocols. There was water on the fire within 10 minutes. There was no ground access via the rear. I could go on and on, but the fact is that Elaina’s was lost before we arrived, that’s how advanced the fire was. It always saddens us when we lose a building, we ask ourselves what could we have done better. The answer is, we can always do something better, but it is important for you and the general public to know that your fire dept is there for you, 24/7, 365 days. And for the last 3 years we’ve been doing it without a raise or contract. With increasing cuts by Nutter and his administration. With company closings. With “brown outs”. With the mass transfer of almost every senior member of the department. So you will have to forgive me if I’m a little sensitive, we’ve been getting punched in the gut for three years. I know it was not your intention, but when the public looks they are taking shots at us too it’s a little disheartning. Stay safe out there Suzanne, and remember we are here if you need us, we never close.

  24. sonypaul Says:

    We should really take fire safety seriously. The damaged is more than financial aspect but also it create emotional stress.

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