Ridgewood all but destroyed

Ridgewood all but destroyed

In the dark and cluttered lobby of The Ridgewood Retirement Community, pictures of former residents and their families lay strewn across a dirty, trash-ridden floor.

Some are snapshots at least 20 years old while others are newer, but all are representative of a once-beautiful facility filled with residents enjoying joyous holidays, lively dances and the crystal clear water of Ridgewood’s once pristine pool.

But after a fire ravaged much of the facility Saturday, April 5, and maybe well before that, when unsanitary and unsafe living conditions effectively forced the closing of Ridgewood in October, Ridgewood has become but a shell of its former self.

“It’s like a tornado or hurricane went through there,” said Boyd Meier, the city’s lead building code inspector. “It’s just a mess.”

Tenants in nearby buildings said that after the October 2013 closure, when it had became clear improvements to bring Ridgewood up to code would be too expensive, vagrants wasted little time in gutting the facility of its copper and other valuable metals, some of which was brand new electric recently added by the owner, Samuel Pinter of New York. 

An Examiner investigation in May 2013 revealed Pinter is no stranger to controversial properties. Numerous publications around the U.S. have reported on Pinter’s property problems. The Houston Chronicle reported Pinter was fined at least $100,000 for a property later condemned by the City of Houston after children were severely burned by a loose power line while at play. Pinter was also charged and convicted of mortgage fraud and fined $44.8 million in July 2010.

But now it seems Ridgewood’s leaky roof and moldy rooms are the least of the building’s problems.

“We sent the police there countless times,” said Charles Pinter, Samuel Pinter’s son, who runs Royale Property Management of New York and who, until recently, said he owned Ridgewood. “They did arrest two people for stealing copper and metal and they did put them in jail. This was three or four weeks ago. Then I got a complaint regarding the people staying there and I told the guy to call the police.”

A press release from the Beaumont Fire Department said several vagrants were in the area when the fire started Saturday, but no official report as to the cause of the fire has been released.

“It’s between the destruction by all of the vagrants and the illegal activity over there,” Meier said. “I can’t elaborate too much until we finalize all our inspections and everything with the Fire Department. I’m working with (fire investigators) right now. We’re still waiting to get a report back from the fire department before we compile all our information and finish our inspection of the rest of the structure because there is more destruction that’s gone on inside the building — more theft and damage — since our last inspection.”

Indeed, a visual inspection of Ridgewood’s open, unsecured lobby reveals extensive damage. It would be impossible to walk through the facility without feeling swallowed by trash, clutter and debris.

“It would be different if it were secured and there were signs up everywhere, but he kind of just let the place go,” Meier said.

Samuel Pinter owned Ridgewood and paid his son’s management company to manage the property. The Pinters now say they neither own nor manage the property. Meier, on the other hand, said the city is unaware of any change in ownership.

“It’s out of my hands. We don’t manage that property anymore,” Charles Pinter said. “We have nothing to do with it. The owner sold it off and is planning on either leveling it or rebuilding it.”

Both Pinter and Meier said a few buyers have shown interest in Ridgewood, but both are unsure if Ridgewood will be torn down or refurbished.

“We’ve had a few interested buyers come up here asking questions about it, but I told them make sure and go look at it thoroughly before you make a decision because it has been vandalized and it is in bad condition now,” Meier said.

“At this point in time, whoever goes in there is going to have to do something extravagant to make something work,” Pinter said.