Fire razes former psychiatric hospital, famous hotel

From combined dispatches

A historic 19th-century Rockville building that once housed a famed psychiatric hospital has been destroyed by fire, said Montgomery County fire officials.

The multistory brick structure, which once was home to the Woodlawn Hotel and later the Chestnut Lodge, collapsed in the Sunday morning blaze, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the county’s fire and rescue department.

Mr. Piringer said that the building was unoccupied and that no one was injured. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Mr. Piringer said a neighbor was awakened when an “aggravated dog” alerted him to the fire, but the building was already heavily consumed by flames when firefighters arrived shortly before 3 a.m.

Minutes after firefighters arrived, the top three floors of the six-story building collapsed in the two-alarm fire, WRC-TV (Channel 4) reported.

Despite using “every available fire hydrant in the area,” just “15 to 20 minutes into the fire-fight, the top three floors collapsed into the basement,” Mr. Piringer told Channel 4.

The building was on the National Register of Historic Places and was slated to be converted to condominiums.

Mr. Piringer said the surrounding area has been redeveloped with upscale homes, including some million-dollar residences. The building was surrounded by about 20 acres.

The building had “a long and rich history,” Mr. Piringer said. “It was a significant loss the the community.”

Chestnut Lodge was first known as the Woodlawn Hotel, a luxury resort, in the 19th century until it was developed into a psychiatric sanatorium.

Novelist J.R. Salamanca set his 1961 novel “Lilith” at Chestnut Lodge - known as Poplar Lodge in the book. According to Quill & Brush booksellers, Mr. Salamanca worked at Chestnut Lodge before becoming a graduate school professor at the University of Maryland.

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