30 Tons Of Lobster Lost In Boston Fire

Boston firefighters pour water on James Hook & Co., a landmark lobster business in downtown Boston that was destroyed by a seven-alarm blaze overnight Friday May 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Patricia McDonnell) AP PHOTO

More than 80 years ago, the Hook brothers started trucking their catch of lobsters from Maine and Canada to Boston's fish piers, selling them directly to the city's top restaurants.

Ever since, four generations of Hooks have kept their seafood wholesale business in a squat wooden building with a corrugated steel roof, resisting multiple offers from developers as luxury hotels, gleaming office towers and the Big Dig highway project dwarfed and surrounded them.

On Friday, a seven-alarm fire gutted their landmark waterfront location, causing $5 million in damage that included the loss of 60,000 pounds of lobster, but the Hooks vowed to rebuild James Hook & Co.

"We'll set up a trailer, we'll set up tents, we'll find a way," co-owner Ed Hook said as he looked over the smoldering embers of his 83-year-old business founded in 1925 and owned by Hook and his siblings, Jimmy, Al and Nancy.

"If we can survive the Big Dig, we can survive anything," he said.

Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said 130 firefighters battled the blaze that started about 3:30 a.m., fueled by cardboard boxes used for shipping seafood.

There was no report of injuries and no immediate indication of how the fire started, except that it probably started on the more heavily damaged left side of the building.

MacDonald said it would be Saturday at the earliest before investigators were allowed into the building.

James Hook & Co. shipped 50,000 pounds of lobsters a day, among other seafood, selling mostly to distributors and some restaurants. The building had a small retail store that was popular with tourists and locals who wanted to catch a look at some giant crustaceans.

Ed Hook spent much of his time Friday morning on his cell phone trying to link vendors with customers, promising to fill their orders. The company updated its Web site Friday with pictures of the blaze, promising refunds to customers whose orders could not be filled.

Charlie Smith, a buyer and seller for seafood purveyor Martin Seafood Co. in Jessup, Md., said he has been doing business with the Hooks so long he can hardly remember when their partnership started.

"I try to deal with people who are personable, trustworthy, and who you can count as a friend, and even though we have never met in person, I think the world of Eddie and his family," Smith said.

Robert Nagle, the vice president of Boston-based seafood distributor John Nagle Co., said he feels a special bond with the Hooks because he, too, works for a family-owned business.

"They are a good, honest, legitimate business at all times," Nagle said, adding that his company has offered the Hooks office space while they get back on their feet.

The business was a city landmark, visible from Atlantic Avenue, the main thoroughfare along Boston's waterfront. The company name was emblazoned on the side of the building in large white letters visible from the nearby Evelyn Moakley Bridge. It sat in the heart of downtown, across from the Financial District and between two luxury hotels.

On Friday, its trademark golden lobster weather vane was buried in the rubble of the collapsed roof.

"It's like a nightmare really," said John Mazurkiewicz, a cousin of the Hooks who has worked at the business for 32 years and awoke uncharacteristically early - 4 a.m. - just before the call from Jimmy Hook.

"Jimmy said the building had burned to the ground. When I drove in and saw the smoke I knew we were in trouble," he said.

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